WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
19 May 2020 | Podcast

Beyond the Wall: The Human Consequences of ICE Detention Centers

In this episode of Beyond the Wall, Mario Moreno, VP for Communications conducts two interviews regarding the harrowing conditions migrants face in ICE detention centers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first is with Sarah Sanchez and Isabel Ribe, two advocates at the Santa Fe Dreamers Project working with detained migrants.

In the second interview, Mario talks with Dr. Tracy Green, a Brandeis University professor and Dana Gold, senior counsel with the Government Accountability Project, on how a pair of Homeland Security whistleblowers spoke out against conditions of ICE detention facilities during COVID-19 pandemic, and about their mathematical model study revealed that ICE detention facilities face up to 100 percent infection rate if no action to release detained migrants is taken.


Beyond the Wall is a bilingual segment of the Latin America Today podcast, and a part of the Washington Office on Latin America’s Beyond the Wall advocacy campaign. In the series, we will follow the thread of migration in the Americas beyond traditional barriers like language and borders. We will explore root causes of migration, the state of migrant rights in multiple countries and multiple borders and what we can do to protect human rights in one of the most pressing crises in our hemisphere.

Sign up for updates here: https://www.wola.org/beyondthewall/signup-beyond-wall/

Music by Blue Dot Sessions and ericb399.

Transcripts are generated using a speech recognition software and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.


Hi, my name is Mario Moreno. I’m the vice president for communications at the Washington Office on Latin America. This week I recorded a pair of conversations that explored the human consequences of keeping migrants in ICE detention facilities during the COVID 19 pandemic. In the first of these conversations, I spoke with Isabel Ribe and Sarah Sanchez, two advocates at the Santa Fe Dreamers project working on behalf of detained migrants. Together they paint a picture of the harrowing conditions in ICE detention centers, share the stories of clients currently detained and make an urgent call for authorities to cease the inhumane detention of migrants. In the second of these two conversations, I talked to Dr. Tracy Green and Dana Gold. Dana is a senior counsel and director for education at the Government Accountability Project. While Dr. Green is an epidemiologist, research director and faculty at the Heller school for social policy and management at Brandeis University. Together they shared with me the story of how a pair of department of Homeland security whistleblowers spoke out against ICE detention center conditions during COVID 19, how they provided the key information for litigation teams seeking the release of detained migrants and how they spearheaded a mathematical modeling study that found a sobering conclusion. Nearly 100% of the detained migrant population in ICE detention centers could contract the virus unless immediate action to release them is taken.

Mario Moreno (02:25):

Okay. So now, prior to the pandemic hitting, prior to COVID 19, you both spent time visiting ice detention centers and working with, with clients and, and, and detain migrants. Can you help our listeners sort of place themselves inside one of these centers? What’s, what’s the scene like? What do you feel upon entering one?

Isabel (02:52):

Um, I was going to say that, yeah, I’ve, I’ve always found it very foreboding and difficult to be in detention spaces. I previously used to work in a youth detention center here in Santa Fe. And, um, remember that feeling of getting chills up your spine when you going through the layers of barbed wire and the layers of, um, of fencing and doors that, that closed shut behind you. And I’ve always, anytime I’ve ever been in a prison facility, I’ve always been with the privilege of only going in and out in a few hours, but never, um, being somebody who doesn’t have the option to leave. Um, one thing that struck me in Cibola is that, you know, like, so many of these detention centers are private for profit facilities. Um, they’re, they’re immigration detention facilities and they’re also, um, prisons for, uh, federal inmates. And so when you’re waiting to go into where we did our legal clinics, there’s, there’s a room next to that where, um, folks are doing their family visits for other folks who are, um, detained in that present. So I remember seeing like little girls with bows in their hair, um, dressed up to see their, their family members who are in the prison.

Sarah (04:08):

I have most experience in the detention center in Cibola County. Um, it’s located about two hours from our office here in Santa Fe last year in 2019 and we were going out to the detention center about once a week at minimum. And so in order to even go into the detention center as a legal advocate, you have to be cleared beforehand. Uh, ice runs a background check on you or the detention facility does. So yeah, that needs to be done even before stepping foot. When you arrive at the guard shack and they check your ID, you go through a metal detector and then you have to be buzzed through a series of gates with um, electric fencing. And then after that point, um, we would go out weekly to do a type of legal orientation or pro bono sessions in particular, we met with the, with transgender and queer folks that were housed at Cibola and those are the people that we worked with principally and met with every week for about two hours.

Mario Moreno (05:29):

That, so, so you walk into this detention center and, and you get these feelings of, of how confined of a space it is and then how tragic of a space it is for, for the people that you’re seeking to represent. What are conditions for them like under normal circumstances like before the pandemic hit, what were conditions for them like in these detention centers?

Sarah (05:54):

Conditions have always been horrible. Um, actually recently Cibola was flagged, um, as being a detention center that could not hold anyone that was medically vulnerable because their medical care was so, was so horrible. People are having to wait months just to see a doctor. So I mean these conditions have always been horrible. People have always told us about, um, the lack of cleanliness within the facilities. We’ve had clients who have felt unsafe, clients that have experienced, um, violent situations within the detention center. It’s never been a safe space even before the pandemic.

Mario Moreno (06:38):

As you work with clients and you work with, with migrants that you represent and are advocates for and detention centers across the country, what are, what are they telling you about conditions within ICE detention centers and, and what, if any, actions are being taken on behalf of the, of ICE to, to care for their health?

Isabel (07:00):

Yeah, so it’s, it’s been, it’s been horrific and it’s been extremely anxiety provoking. So a number of detainees have, detained folks had told me that when the virus first hit, they had a nurse or other medical professional come and talk to them about protocols in terms of physical distancing, in terms of hand washing and other hygiene practices like that that they would need to do to, um, to protect their health during this time. A lot of the same advice that a lot of us have heard, but it’s really laughable because how are you supposed to do physical distancing when you are, um, held being held in a dormitory with an average of 48 individuals and you’re sleeping in bunk beds that are about, um, one foot to half a meter apart. So the idea of being told to stay six feet apart from everybody is it’s insulting because you’re being told that and when you literally have no ability to do that.

Isabel (07:55):

So folks are, they’re living in these dormitories where their beds are about a foot apart. When they go to the cafeteria, they’re lining up with other dorms. So there’s about 150 people walking and waiting in lines to go into a cafeteria where they have to sit also elbow to elbow at small tables. Um, there’s about two, an average of two sinks per 50 people. Um, you have to wait in line to, to wash your hands, to, um, use the toilet to use the shower. Um, there’s no effort, there’s never been any effort to clean the dormitories. That’s always been something that’s voluntarily done by detainees. Um, so now it’s the same. The detainees have to clean their own spaces and, um, oftentimes it’s a few, uh, folks who volunteered to do that because if they don’t, there’s nobody else doing it. Um, so there’s, what we’ve heard across the board is that the, there’s nobody wearing masks, um, in terms of the guard.

Isabel (08:55):

So there’s a lot of anxiety in terms of, um, the guards and the other folks who are working in the detention centers are the ones who are going in and out of the facility every day and they’re not wearing any kind of protective gear. So that also incites a lot of anxiety. Um, at this point, what I’ve been hearing it from when is that, um, there are a few dorms that are on lockdown that are on quarantine, so they’re having their meals brought to them and they’re not, um, moving around the facility and interacting with, with other detainees. Um, but previously that hadn’t been happening and there were, um, protests happening. There were hunger strikes happening, asking for more protection. Um, and it’s, it’s, it’s hard to express the amount of anxiety that has been provoked in, in our clients who are already in the traumatic, um, situation where they know that their health needs aren’t being taken care of, where they might have conditions like asthma, um, or other medical concerns that aren’t already not being taken care of. Um, and knowing that this virus is coming in, that there’s nothing that’s being done to protect them.

Mario Moreno (10:00):

And so Sarah, you had mentioned that you also work with certain, certain transgender populations. I’m assuming there’s a certain level there, there’s a huge element of anxiety and trauma that happens to anybody who gets attained in a nice detention facility, particularly during these times. How, how is that expressed among the transgender population?

Sarah (10:25):

Uh, yes, particularly we’re seeing, so I’ve spoken with folks at different detention centers and already they feel unsafe in these settings already. Um, they’re subjugated to homophobia and transphobia by other detained folks and by the guards and by officials. So they already are experiencing, um, heightened anxiety. They’re already experiencing insomnia. Um, they already don’t feel safe in their own space within the dorm. So on top of that, they have this other fear going on of COVID. And the other problem is that for many of them, all of the information that they got for weeks was just from television news, from Telemundo and um, in particular. So there were finding out information about COVID through Telemundo and they were asking the guards what was going on. Um, at one point the news channel started broadcasting that one detention center in particular, um, either had exposure to COVID or confirmed case, but the people detained in that detention center did not know anything about this information. They were finding out from the news. They were asking the guards, is this true? The guards were denying it. So it’s, it’s very, very, um, it’s terrifying for them to know that they’re in this space where they’re constantly being given inaccurate information about their health, about their lives, um, and their lives are constantly at risk.

Mario Moreno (12:05):

So how does that, how does that inform the advocacy work that you’re doing at the Santa Fe dreamers project? What kind of strategies, what kind of actions have you had to sort of take in? Very difficult circumstances to, to, to find ways to advocate for individuals who are living in what seems to be a waking nightmare.

Sarah (12:30):

Yeah. So we have paired up with other national orgs, in particular transgender law center and transgender law center rapid defense network and Ballard Spar all came together to put forth a temporary restraining order against ICE on behalf of all transgender migrants detained all over the country. So we’re currently, um, talking to folks about this that are detained and we’re gathering declarations. Um, we’re doing ongoing declarations with folks to see how the situation unfold as the weeks go by. And honestly it’s not getting better, I suppose not improving the situation. Um, ICE is not providing any sort of means for people to um, put physical distance. ICE is not providing, um, for instance, there’s no soap provided up. The sinks, if people are going to have soap to wash their hands, it’s, so that’s their personal possession. I mean I, I has not done anything to make these people safer.

Mario Moreno (13:40):

Public health practices as it relates to COVID 19 is is this element of social distancing and staying at home. Um, but we’ve heard that ICE is still moving folks around in transfers. Can you walk us through what that entails and what happens?

Sarah (13:56):

Yes. Um, I know that as recently as last week, which would be the beginning of may, I heard that uh, one of our clients in particular was transferred in between detention centers. Um, I was told that she had two layovers during her transfer and by the time she arrived at her final destination, um, the airplane was full, the entire airplane was full. There was no such thing as her having a distance of six feet from anyone else. And she was, um, given the mask, but the masks, the mask she was given, um, there was no, the information that she was given us to how to properly use this mask was given to her in English and she doesn’t speak English. It was, it wasn’t helpful. No one gave her any verbal information. So she arrived at the detention centers, scared that she had been exposed to so many people all over the country. Um, and I later found out that according to public health practices, you’re also supposed to isolate at least for 14 days and she was only isolated for seven days, more or less, and then she was put into the general population.

Mario Moreno (15:12):

Wow. And so this, you know, this speaks to, I mean certainly there’s, there’s a huge problem as it relates to detention, ice detention during the covered 19 pandemic. But you’ve also touched upon how poorly equipped ice detention centers were already to begin with before the pandemic to, to, to provide care for, for migrants in detention. It’s attention, it’s attention, even a feasible approach to, is it even, should it even be a part of migration policy? Covenanting notwithstanding?

Sarah (15:52):

No, absolutely not. A detention should not be a part of migration. Um, as an organization, we advocate for the abolition of immigration detention. Um, we believe that it is completely unnecessary and it is very harmful, um, to people’s mental and emotional and physical wellbeing.

Mario Moreno (16:14):

And we’re seeing and we’re seeing how that plays out. We’re seeing the extent of, of, we’re seeing the extent of the physical damage that it could incur right now with COVID 19.

Isabel (16:26):

It’s our position that there is no such thing as a safe cage. It’s not possible and it’s not feasible to, to, to keep people safe in such inhumane conditions. So we are advocating for the end of immigration detention and for our clients to be released. I would just reiterate that our clients are, are universally fleeing horrific violence in their home countries and they’ve come to the U.S. To seek asylum. Um, which is, uh, one of the most honored traditions of our country is that, um, folks can show up here and ask for that assistance. Um, and so many of the clients that I’ve spoken to, they, when they cross the border and do ask for that assistance, then they’re immediately put into detention and put into these, these conditions where they’re, they’re traveling with their hands shackled at their waist and their feet shackled and being treated like criminals.

Isabel (17:18):

Um, and being in detention for six months to a year to 18 months to two years. Um, and these are folks who are, like I said, they’re fleeing horrific violence and horrific trauma and being put into a situation that exacerbates their trauma and exacerbates their health. And many times, you know, they have loving family members here in the U S who are waiting to receive them into their homes where they have friends or other community members, um, who are waiting to receive them into their homes, to, to go through the process of applying for asylum and all of the other steps that they need to. Um, there’s really no reason for them to be kept in such inhumane condition.

Mario Moreno (17:53):

And so the last question that I’ll ask is, is many, many of these folks that are detained, if they were detained, they would be taking the necessary precautions as recommended by the public health authorities as they were preventing them from taking the actions that they would take to protect their health. Yeah. And I think that’s, that’s the most powerful way to phrase this is that at the moment I see attention is creating a vector is becoming a hotspot for the spread of COVID 19. We’ve already seen a fatality from it. We’re like, could you seem anymore? And this could all be avoided if we stop detaining people.

Isabel (18:35):

Yeah. The last thing I’ll say is that, I think it was as of last week, we, the numbers that I had heard was that there was about 30,000 people in immigration detention throughout the country and about 700 tests for COVID had been administered. And of those 700, I think 500 or so came out positive. Um, so it’s a tiny, tiny fraction of the overall population that’s in detention. So we, it’s very reasonable to assume that the numbers are much higher.

Mario Moreno (19:03):

I want to thank you both for taking the time to speak with me. Um, I hope you stay safe and stay healthy and keep doing your important work.

Isabel (19:10):

Thank you Mario, and thank you to WOLA for all of your work.

Mario Moreno (19:17):

So Dana, can you please share a little bit more about the work of the government accountability project?

Dana Gold (19:24):

Sure, absolutely. Um, government accountability project was founded in 1977 so we’ve been around for over 40 years and we promote government and corporate accountability. So both, both government and corporate accountability. And we do that by working with whistleblowers, ensuring that they’re protected in their effort to speak truth about wrongdoing, exposed misconduct, abuses of power, um, that, uh, violate the public trust. Um, but we also work to ensure their disclosures make a difference, which is of course why most employees who see wrongdoing in the workplace speak up. So we do that by, so our lawyers, we represent them, uh, whistleblowers, you know, in exercising their rights to blow the whistle, uh, protecting them from reprisal or asserting justice if they have experienced retaliation, which is unfortunately something that happens with some frequency. Um, but then we also use a bunch of different other strategies to leverage their information, um, that can range from, uh, legal tools, uh, litigation, but also working in partnerships with public interest advocates, with journalists, with Congress and oversight agencies. Um, really to make sure that the information makes a difference.

Mario Moreno (20:44):

Dana, within the context of your work once covid 19, you started representing a pair of government whistleblowers who had warned specifically about the health risks associated with COVID 19 spread for detained migrants in ice detention centers. Can you walk us through how that, that, what that work entailed at the beginning?

Dana Gold (21:06):

Yeah, absolutely. So, um, so it actually started even before coven, um, because we represented, uh, Dr. Scott Allen and his colleague, Dr Pamela MacPherson starting in, uh, the summer of 2018. Um, Scott, Pam doctor, uh, worked for the department of Homeland security’s office of civil rights and civil liberties and they came to government accountability project, very worried that, um, with the, uh, at the time of the separation policy, um, the move to curtail that abuse was to expand family detention and they as contractors for CRCL several, uh, office of civil rights and civil liberties do inspections of the family detention centers. And they were very concerned that, um, with increases of the populations in detention that would, um, that harm to children was foreseeable and imminent because of the conditions they saw. So we helped them raise concerns internally to the inspector general and to Congress, um, to make sure that they could do that within their rights as federal contractors to blow the whistle on serious, um, uh, threats to public health and safety, um, uh, and to do so without fear of reprisal.

Dana Gold (22:26):

So that was, um, how I actually, um, had been working with Dr. Allen and dr McPhearson, you know, for the past couple of years. Um, and then COVID hit and Dr. Allen, who was still the detention health expert, he’s a subject matter expert for CRCL. Dr Jody rich is now a subcontractor for Dr. Allen, also a contractor now for CRCL. And they started raising concerns internally to DHS back in February, concerned about the spread of COVID and immigrant detention and offering to be of service. And then they escalated those concerns in March and then together, um, you know, when I was a piece of helping them with that advocacy. And then, um, we needed to take it up a notch because of the directness of the situation. So we helped them craft a letter to Congress, uh, documenting their past disclosures, but really raising the alarm about the health threat to immigrants workers as well as the public, um, of the, of these congregate settings with the spread of COVID. This was of course at the same time that we’re seeing, you know, Christian nursing and colleges and universities shut down and disparate things, um, because of the risk. So that’s, that’s kind of the evolution of this.

New Speaker (23:43):

And, and the letter of kicked off a pretty, in a pretty, a deluge of information for you specifically because all of a sudden all these litigation teams across the country seeking release of detained migrants in ice detention centers start reaching out to you seeking assistance.

Dana Gold (24:03):

Exactly. So for, so it was almost immediate. So, and we, and we of course knew that again, the strategy around these campaigns of ensuring that make difference, wanting the disclosures to be in the public record, right, to, to get out there that these disclosures to Congress could be used and leveraged by the advocacy community. Um, we did not necessarily expect to get like, I mean, I think within, you know, three days I had been contacted by at least 12 different litigation teams, all of whom were using dr Allens and dr Rich’s letter to Congress in their petitions for release of immigrants, but also needing more information about, um, you know, you know, what the effect of the spread would be. So they could craft the suggested release plans, for instance, for courts or to, to, to help make the case for why at this specific facility, how COVID was going to spread and what the, what the impact would be on the public.

Dana Gold (24:57):

So I brought all of these different organizations together and lawyers together because they weren’t talking to each other. Um, not because they, you know, for, for no bad reason, right. Because they’re all working to save lives in an emergency. They’re all filing emergency petitions, but we quickly, um, and in part because we had a very strong coalition of allies because our prior work leveraging dr Allen’s and dr MacPherson’s information about harms to children in detention, um, and working very closely with the women, um, we were really able to bring everything together and identify, make sure that there was information for cross fertilization and information sharing and also to identify what the needs were and what the gaps were of information for those litigation teams. And a lot of that was about public health information. Um, and which of course is where I was centered because of representing these two public health detention experts.

Mario Moreno (25:52):

You, you mentioned that, that a lot of these teams were asking for more specific and hard information that they could use in support of their litigation. And so that, that eventually took the form of a very specific study and model. But can you walk us through how you arrived at that conclusion that this was the best way to support these teams as they made their cases?

Dana Gold (26:12):

Yeah. In part, I mean, I think because I was in close conversation with dr Jody rich, particularly who is an epidemiologist, um, like Dr. Green. Um, and they worked together, uh, learning about what the needs were as we’re fielding requests for kids. Dr. Rich or Dr. Allen, you know, offer a declaration about what’s happening at this facility. Um, which is complicated because they are still employed by DHS. Um, trying to figure out other ways to get information that was much more granular. Um, and so that was where, when we were, you know, kind of gleaning, um, what information, because again, this litigation is like facility by facility. Um, largely. So that’s why there’s like, you know, 30, 40 plus pieces of litigation moving around the country. Um, I think it was Dr. Rich and talking with, um, his colleagues, uh, and listening, um, with me, uh, with the working group that I had put together of this coalition of litigation teams.

Dana Gold (27:13):

I think that’s how, um, the, the need was, was drilled down on it. And actually, it’d be interesting to hear, you know, Tracy’s, uh, dr Greene’s recollection at this point because it all happened very quickly. It was like we could do some modeling. Um, and in some ways it was both the public health, um, professionals and the data scientists tracking coven, knowing what information was needed and being able to kind of communicate that in some ways for the advocates, but also the advocates being able to refine exactly what they needed and how they needed that information organized for instance, facility by facility or, um, you know, and what the differentiation was between genders and different facilities for instance, or if they were family facilities versus adult facilities. So it was really this, um, you know, being at the hub of these two different groups of like the public health professionals, which, you know, even in there as epidemiologists and mathematicians and criminologists and public health experts. Um, and then these advocates, it was about, you know, really shaping together. Um, how, uh, what kind of w you know, how, how to shape the modeling that would be most useful for purposes of drilling down to help courts make decisions about the urgency of the need to release immigrants from detention because of the spread of covert

Mario Moreno (28:33):

And Dr. Green. This is, this is where you come into the story, right? You were one of the public health researchers who came on to develop this model. And so as you’re, as you sort of brought onto the project and you’re thinking through how to build this out, what kind of research questions are coming to your mind and what do you ultimately land on as, as, as a study that needs to be produced to help support ongoing efforts to release detained migrants.

Dr. Tracy Green (28:59):

Yeah. It’s just funny how it came together so quickly and it was also with a great deal of clarity of like this is what we wanted to do. And I think, um, the team of, um, mathematical modelers and, um, and other epidemiologists, um, who made up the authors of this paper. Um, it was interesting, but we have been meeting for the past year and a half every other week, um, to work on some mathematical models for, for different epidemic, um, for the opioid epidemic and looking at, we’ve been modeling Naloxone access, the rescue medication and how much Naloxone is needed in the country. And so, um, I used to do quite a lot of mathematical, um, but wanting to take that, that particular research question on with the team. So I built this team of, of people who were, um, really a Motley crew and we had kind of finished this modeling project and kind of yearning for something else.

Dr. Tracy Green (29:56):

And as we were tying up our own paper, um, I crossed paths with, with Jody as I do often, Dr. Rich often. And, um, in, we started talking about our huge concerns about what was happening in prisons, jails and detention facilities across the country with the rise of coronavirus. Then thinking like this is, we have to do something about this really quickly. And, um, realizing that at, you know, early on, people didn’t really get it, didn’t understand what it was going to entail. And for, I think for, for folks like, um, scientists like myself and Jody who work on the health of people behind the walls and in, um, correctional settings kind of have a, have a sense that had a sense that this was going to be really profoundly upsetting and concerning for, for anybody who’s detained. And, um, so we started talking about what we might be able to do and research wise, what big questions to, um, really express the effect of, of the spread and what it would be.

Dr. Tracy Green (30:56):

And um, he mentioned, and Jody mentioned, um, the work that he’d been doing with Dana and with Scott Allen. And, um, and then we started realizing like, this is our chance to really think about using science to really advance a question and answer that, that, um, the same question actually the Dana and her group was like, what’s the effect of the spread and what’s it going to be that we could actually help answer that question, but we couldn’t do it without them and the data and the partnerships and the understanding of the environment. So, um, I kind of did what Dana ended up doing, bringing people together. I brought a whole group of people together, criminologists epidemiologists, students of, uh, public health, uh, mathematicians. And um, and then really, and then when crossed, um, enough paths and enough datasets, um, to get us to the question of, okay, what do we need these inputs and we need to put these, um, in order to help us understand what the impact is going to be on the spread and the lives of people who are in the ice detention facilities.

Dr. Tracy Green (32:02):

Um, but then also to think about on the hospitals and hospitalizations. So what their families will suffer as, as, um, as their loved ones are, are hospitalized, the ICU admissions that will happen. Um, and the risks of further health complications. And then that larger question of, um, how does this fit with the rest of the puzzle of Cobra 19, what is going to be the demand in the community? Um, because, um, everybody’s going to get sick really quickly. And that means a huge search, a different kind of search. So these questions all came at the same time to the answer of let’s do a model. So,

Mario Moreno (32:41):

so let’s, let’s break out sort of the two questions that you were looking at, which one was the spread of, of COVID 19 within detained populations, the nice attention centers. And then we’ll talk later about the hospitalization side of this, which is compelling and, and tragic and worrisome in the same way. But, um, what did, what did you find, what did the model find as it relates to the spread of COVID 19 in detained migrant populations?

Dr. Tracy Green (33:08):

Yeah. And we, so we set the model up so that we could answer the question of kind of in the very short term, in a 30 or 60 or a 90 day period. And, um, what would happen, um, in those time horizons and, and really also what would happen in small and kind of medium and large facilities. Um, because we know that of the 111 nice detention facilities across the U S they are of different sizes and capacities and, um, it’s important, that’s an important, um, factor when we think about how quickly people will get sick. Um, and so we set up the, the model, um, which, you know, like every good model is, uh, you have to simplify to get to the point where you can make, um, you can see things clearly. So we did make some, um, mathematical relationships of what we understand happens with the virus and how quickly it spreads, um, amongst people who, who don’t have it.

Dr. Tracy Green (34:06):

And, um, over what period of time. Um, and then also factors like, um, how infectious it is, how many people will become, um, who are likely to be infected given they, if one person has, um, has coronavirus how many other people, if they come into contact, will they infect as well. And, um, that was one of the hardest things to understand, um, and to really get a handle on, because at the time we were doing the model, many things were changing as well. We were learning all the time about what COVID 19 is. So this novel coronavirus um, how it performs, how it, how it acts, how it behaves in, in, um, populations. But when we put it all together, what we saw was that even in the most conservative of, um, of our, um, scenarios, we kind of did a conservative, a moderate and a pessimistic, um, scenario.

Dr. Tracy Green (35:05):

Um, so over this time period, um, we would see 72% of people who it would be expected to be infected by that 90 day mark, even in the most optimistic of scenarios. Um, and that it really changes if you start to think about, um, or more moderate or more pessimistic scenario. Um, and one may argue that the more moderate, I mean sort of the Goldilocks, um, in number there, I’m not too low, not too high, but right in the middle that that, um, moderate range of infection rate is still extremely high. So we’re looking, we’re talking in the worst case scenario, nearly a hundred percent of the people in the facilities would be, um, positive in a 90 day scenario. And that’s really because we, um, somewhere between 72% in just shy of a hundred is really big. It happens because the facilities are, as Dana really described, they are challenged with, um, out the ability to social distance without the ability to, um, protect with PP, with the PPE, either masks and otherwise without the ability to, to wash hands and, um, keep, um, the same kind of protections in place that people who, who aren’t in contained in a facility.

Dr. Tracy Green (36:29):

Um, but these facilities also are fundamentally different from the jails and prisons settings where there are cells that separate people out. Um, detention facilities as with larger environments are, um, both more crowded but also, um, people are, are housed and kept differently in those spaces. And ironically, you know, this is one of the most challenging parts because it makes them also the, one of the more most unhealthy situations when it comes to Corona virus. Um, so that was where we, we included the most pessimistic as well to be really thinking about that in places that are more overcrowded.

Mario Moreno (37:09):

A horrifying number to come across nearly everybody who’s in a pessimistic scenario. Nearly everybody who is currently in detention stands to test positive for the virus. What, what, what went through your mind as you sort of came across this, this pessimistic scenario? I mean, the optimistic one even, I mean, it’s also tragic and horrifying it so, right. 72% is a pretty high number of the population. What are you thinking is, is you see, as you see these results start to come out?

Dr. Tracy Green (37:45):

Oh, just like the, it’s terribly, terribly tragic and hugely preventable. I mean, especially the hospitalizations and, um, the ICU admissions and the, I can’t imagine being a family member worrying about a loved one in one of these facilities and not knowing are they safe, are they not? Can they, how can I help keep them safe? Um, you know, unnecessary hospitalizations, unnecessary, um, severe complications and we’re just scratching the surface for understanding what the, what this is longterm. Um, so I feel like after having done this, you know, you see this, this analysis really all of us feeling like this is pretty grim. And so what do we do? You know, what can we do? And we, I think that’s where the other part of the science was really clear, um, to that. Um, in instances like if, I swear there’s not much, um, that’s going to be effective.

Dr. Tracy Green (38:46):

You, you, you cannot, um, you can’t quarantine, you can’t test. Like we have no effective vaccine. Many of the tools that we have, we can’t implement them fast enough to keep, to slow the spread and to keep people safe. Um, the most effective pathway at this point would be to reduce the number of people who are susceptible by, by letting people go by releasing, um, into the community and letting people protect themselves with the same things. We’re able to protect ourselves with, uh, outside of the facilities, um, to loving homes and other, um, support, support community, um, organizations that have their health in mind.

Mario Moreno (39:26):

So, so not to switch. So because I think, I think you hit on the a critical point here that is people, if they’re released are going to adopt public health best practices to keep themselves safe. Um, and that should be the priority. There’s an element here as well. And you touched on this a little bit earlier, that that as we’re talking about the spread of COVID 19 in ice detention centers, you’re also talking about that many of these detention centers are in communities that are often or sometimes remote, where there is already questions as to the capacity of local health systems to deal with the virus. You touched on some of that in this research as well, and you found equally scary outcomes.

Dr. Tracy Green (40:21):

Yeah, I think because of the, after seeing that there would be quite a need for hospitalization and more advanced care. And then in an ICU, um, we use the information that, um, is available publicly around where the ice facilities are located. Um, and for the 111 that we included in the analysis, which is, um, the vast majority of ICE detention facilities there, um, we didn’t, we didn’t include ones that had 25 or fewer than 25 individuals, um, held and they didn’t, um, they weren’t included in the model, but, um, the ones with 25 and above, um, uh, detainees, we looked to where they were located and then used, um, a kind of analysis, a spatial analysis, um, where you can consider, um, a geographic radius if you will. So we looked at 10 miles and 50 miles, uh, from the facility, what kind of hospital capacity.

Dr. Tracy Green (41:18):

There was an ICU bed capacity. There was, um, and this is really considering that there will be transports, um, to keep, people can care for them, um, which themselves offer unfortunately, exposure and risk, um, for the people working in the facilities. And those transporting. But, um, the reach of, um, looking at that 10 mile radius, um, we saw that, um, and comparing what the number of ICU admissions would be that are likely and what was available, met within that local capacity. Um, we saw 59%, so six, at least 66, um, ICU or ice facilities would be overwhelmed. Um, that 10 mile radius. So the, the medical facilities close by either there, there either was no capacity or if there was, it would far over be overwhelmed by the, um, by the care that would be needed for the detainees.

Mario Moreno (42:21):

And, and, and, and so where it began, it becomes even more important at that point to highlight the fact that the only way or the only way that we can think of right now to prevent not just a spread of COVID 19 within detention centers, but also overwhelming local health systems. It’s, as you said, the release of detainees, um, to places where they can care for them. How have adequate access to a lot of these methods that we talk about and, and caring for yourself in the middle of code 19, which is social distancing and those types of actions.

Dr. Tracy Green (42:58):

That’s exactly right. So in the, in, in if released to the community, it’s um, their, their risk of getting the virus and then being hospitalized and then being a more severe case, um, maybe very different. And that’s sort of what we, what we were seeing that the number of cases, um, who would be sick, um, in such a short period of time would be the kind of strain that, um, would really harm the local communities. It would harm the, the detainees, um, now and into their future and their lives. Um, and it would harm the facilities in the communities, the health care facilities as well.

Mario Moreno (43:38):

So Dana, as you, as you sort of see the results coming out of this study that came out of this big coalition work between different litigation teams and fairly quickly and you saw the results from the model, what, what is your view or of what’s the best possible outcome here in terms of how is it, how does this ad, how does this impact your strategy with litigation teams and advocacy moving forward?

Dana Gold (44:08):

It’s, uh, it’s, you know, I think it’s just a sustained effort that’s unfortunately, um, the, the pace of advocacy. Um, and even with these, um, you know, temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions and emergency relief actions going case by case or facility by facility is still, um, slow. Although we’re seeing it in to combat a fast moving epidemic, right? Or pandemic, it’s just, uh, you know, the stakes are so high and so hugely frustrating given that this is keeping detain immigrants in detention is lately the nicest discretion and their solution problem to solve, um, than it is in regular correction settings, for instance, uh, in criminal corrections. So that’s, that’s what’s extra frustrating and why this has a patina of, um, you know, there’s a different agenda here going on. I think what’s hard, you know, I guess I, I guess I would say a couple things.

Dana Gold (45:09):

Um, you know, we are seeing it working, you know, people are citing Dr. Allen’s letter and they’re citing, uh, the study now I’m in ongoing litigation. The, they’re being cited in orders that are increasingly releasing detainees from detention and ordering ice to account and establish release plans. Um, if you go on the ice as website, even today, over half of detainees tested have, um, are, have confirmed cases of coven. Um, so the, you know, the modeling, obviously that’s not detect, that’s overall. Um, but this is spreading. You know, we saw the news yesterday of one immigrant has died, uh, two ice, uh, guards died last week. So I think from a strategy perspective, um, you know, making sure this got in the hands very effectively and quickly of the immigration, they’re working with this information. Yesterday, there was a big claim filed, um, with the office of civil rights and civil liberties citing both the study as well as Dr. Allen and um, documenting, uh, very serious violations at specific facilities.

Dana Gold (46:17):

And I think that lights a fire under Congress, which is now going to be conducting hearings. Um, so I think that I, you know, I think that, you know, if we could just continue to move on a multipronged strategy, I think the other piece that we’ve learned and that, you know, is the root of realizations work is that whistleblowers really make a difference. And so this, this study which grew out of that campaign work, right, trying to ensure that the disclosures make a difference. The more whistleblowers come forward, it adds that much more oxygen and granular evidence of violations of CDC standards, for instance, within facilities. Um, you know, looking at the conditions internally that reflect an ability to prevent the spread of COVID in detention. And you know, we are getting, we are, we are working with folks on the ground. There are, you know, I think the other thing is to remember that as Dr. Rich and Dr Allen warned, this is, as you just talked about with the implication of the overflow to public health facilities is that this is a public health crisis.

Dana Gold (47:21):

This is not just, you know, how do we treat immigrants in detention, which is, you know, obviously warrants its own concern. But this is about the, in those facilities as well. Immigrants and the public, I mean, this is, this is part of any national public health strategy. So as we’re working with, um, ice contractors, for instance, very concerned about conditions, they’re seeing a detention, trying to help them understand their rights, risks and options in blowing the whistle or identifying problems that they’re seeing. Because we have the, what’s complicated about this situation is that people are both whistleblowers in terms of seeing things on the ground, um, that are inconsistent with practices to protect immigrant and worker safety. But folks are also victims. So those adding those voices are really making a difference in terms of court driving and ordering release, um, and mounting public pressure for Congress to act. Um, and, and generating citizen response because frankly, this can also be, you know, this is a local issue, right? Because if you’re, if you’re in a community within 50 miles of a detention center, you should be concerned about these hotspots. So I think that we’re all going to be working, continuing to beat the drum of why this is important and urgent and needs to release still needs to happen in a much more, uh, with much more alacrity, uh, and, and in a much more widespread passion.

Mario Moreno (48:48):

So I just wanted to say to both of you, thank you for, for taking the time to speak with me today. Uh, and just to close by saying, one thing that really struck me from this last, this last answer you provided, Dana, is that there is, there is possibly a quick solution if ice decides to do the appropriate thing. So thank you both for being on, on this, on, uh, on this podcast. Um, stay safe and be healthy.

Lisette Alvarez (49:23):

If you want to learn more about the beyond the wall campaign and what else can be done to protect the human rights of migrants, head over to wola.org forward slash beyond the wall. Thank you for listening.