One detainee and one employee at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in southern New Mexico have tested positive for COVID-19, Sen. Tom Udall’s office said Thursday.
The positive test for a detainee at the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral s the first known case of COVID-19 in an El Paso-area ICE detention facility. ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the positive test or details on the detainee.
“After our office inquired, we were informed that one employee and one detainee at the Otero facility have tested positive for COVID-19,” a Udall spokesman said.
ICE said 37 detainees nationwide had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday afternoon. The agency did not include the Otero case in its listing of positive test results. (UPDATE: ICE added the Otero detainee infection to its list of postive tests Friday afternoon. It does not include any ICE employees at Otero as being infected, but many of the employees there are contractors and not ICE employees.)
Linda Corchado, director of legal services for Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, said Trump administration policies are to blame for the COVID-19 infections at the Otero facility.
ICE’s continued insistence on mass detention during a pandemic is putting the safety of Americans at needless risk. Utterly baffling and inappropriate actions by the Trump Administration, like the continued transfer of individuals between ICE facilities, have worked counterproductively to facilitate the spreadof COVID-19,” Corchado said.
Udall sent a letter Thursday to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence to reduce the number of people being held in New Mexico’s three ICE detention facilities.
“There is a long history of disease outbreaks in detention facilities,” Udall wrote. “The conditions at detention facilities coupled with the risk factors of COVID-19 transmission create a deep public health risk to everyone entering and detained at detention facilities across the country.”
“I recommend you start reducing the mass detention of immigration detainees by focusing on asylum seekers, vulnerable migrants, and those who do not pose a threat to public safety or national security, and immediately cease transfers of detainees between facilities as a way of curbing potential transmission of COVID-19,” Udall said.
A group of El Paso religious, government and nonprofit leaders issued a similar call on Tuesday.