Wyden, Merkley Call on DHS Inspector General to Review ICE Detention Facility COVID-19 Policies and Practices

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today called for a full assessment, including site inspections, of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities nationwide to evaluate whether the facilities’ operations, management, standards, and conditions have adapted to address the threat of COVID-19 to both the staff and detainees. 

The letter asking Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General Joseph Cuffari for the review cites reports from across the country that staff at ICE’s detention facilities with confirmed cases of COVID-19 are working without masks or gloves, detainees are not provided adequate access to hygiene products like soap and sanitizer, and facilities are doing little to accommodate social distancing practices. 

“As the numbers of detainees and detention facility staff infected with COVID-19 continue to climb, we share the unease that public health experts have expressed about the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in congregate settings, like detention facilities,” wrote the senators. “Not only are detainees at higher risk because they are in such close proximity to others, people in detention and incarceration are more likely to have other preexisting health conditions, which places them at even higher risk for mortality from the virus. Further, outbreaks inside congregate settings often affect employees who then can spread the disease into their broader communities.” 

In the letter, the senators request that “In order to mitigate the spread of this virus in its congregate settings, we request that, similar to the Justice Department Inspector General’s remote inspections of BOP facilities, you expeditiously conduct site inspections of ICE facilities that have identified positive cases among staff or detainees, and at facilities in geographic areas that have emerged as hot spots. Second, we ask that you immediately examine and assess the sufficiency of policies and practices in place at each facility to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, the letter led by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., included U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Ed Markey, D-Mass., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

The full text of the letter can be found here.

A web version of this release is here.