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El Paso ICE detention facility COVID-19 outbreak is largest in the nation

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An El Paso immigrant detention facility has the largest current detainee COVID-19 outbreak of any Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facility in the United States.

As of Nov. 30, 44 detainees at El Paso Service Processing Center have COVID-19, according to ICE’s website. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 301 detainees in El Paso have tested positive for the virus. The next largest outbreak is 35 at a detention facility in Pearsall, Texas.

The scale and longevity of the El Paso facility’s outbreak is the result of a “sustained failure in leadership” by ICE, said Linda Corchado, director of legal services at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center.

“All of the clients we represented who contracted COVID-19 entered (El Paso Service Processing Center) healthy and were subsequently infected with the virus,” Corchado said. 

Throughout the pandemic, detainees at El Paso Service Processing Center have reported medical neglect, issues with guards not wearing adequate personal protective equipment, and issues with sick detainees not being quarantined for long enough

Seventeen detainees recently launched a letter writing campaign to decry the conditions in the facility, and what they described as an uncontained COVID-19 outbreak among both detainees and facility staff. Two detainees who had contracted COVID-19 also attempted to hunger strike in order to protest the conditions within the facility. 

Both ICE and Global Precision Systems, the contractor which staffs the facility, have said in multiple statements to El Paso Matters that they follow protocols and procedures in accordance with guidelines from the Center for Disease Control, in order to curb the spread of the deadly virus. 

“ICE reviews CDC guidance daily and continues to update protocols to remain consistent with CDC guidance,” West Texas ICE spokesperson Leticia Zamarripa said in a November statement to El Paso Matters. 

Corchado said the current level of the outbreak points to an inadequate institutional response by ICE.

“It’s a lack of leadership — it’s a total failure in looking at the big picture and seeing what needs to get done, to ensure that every migrant who’s under ICE’s custody is safe during this pandemic,” she said.

Cover photo: Detainees at ICE’s El Paso Service Processing Center get medical treatment at a small clinic at the detention center near El Paso International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Robert Holguin/KFOX)

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René Kladzyk

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. Her new album came out on Sister Polygon Records in September 2020, and she is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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