Throughout the epidemic, detained immigrants have been at a higher risk. They have been restricted to places where social distancing is difficult, where sufficient preventative and sanitation measures are lacking, and where access to vaccinations and knowledge about them is limited.
Immigrants are more susceptible now that the highly infectious omicron variant has become the most prevalent coronavirus variety in the United States — and proponents say it’s just one more reason to let them go.
More than 31,000 instances of Covid-19 have been documented at Custom Enforcement Facilities and U.S. Immigration since the outbreak began, with an infection rate that is more than three times that of the total U.S. infection rate. Cases peaked at about 2,000 at a time in May 2021 and have subsequently decreased to just under 300 current cases among 21,000 persons under jail as of December 20. Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona have seen some of the worst outbreaks.
According to an ICE official, as of December 19, 46,772 persons in custody have received Covid-19 vaccines. However, considering that individuals are continually being booked in and released, it’s unclear what percentage of the imprisoned population that statistic reflects over time. It’s also unclear what kind of vaccination those folks got, as well as whether they had 1 or 2 doses or a booster injection. (ICE does not publicly provide such information and did not reply to a request for it.) As a result, measuring the effectiveness of the agency’s immunization effort is difficult.
It’s just a matter of time until omicron spreads across ICE facilities unless there’s a strong vaccine and booster campaign, as well as attempts to minimize the number in immigration detention.“So many of the people who are being held are people who do not pose threats to their communities, were detained for nonviolent crimes, who have a lot of community support, who have all the kinds of mitigating factors that the Biden administration has said should be included in assessments around release,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, a senior campaign organizer. “With the surge of Omicron, these mitigating factors should be weighed even more.”