Hurricane Laura worsens already inhumane ICE conditions

Hurricane Laura worsens already inhumane ICE conditions
Charles Edward Miller https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Detained people already suffer dangerous conditions while in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, including inhumane living arrangementsmedical mistreatment or no treatment at all, and systemic patterns of abuse. The novel coronavirus pandemic has only piled on the suffering. It’s hard to imagine how these facilities could become any worse—but Hurricane Laura has figured out a way.


Mother Jones reports that Laura worsened life in a number of immigration detention facilities in Louisiana, “creating such dire conditions at one facility that detainees reported relieving themselves on their dishes, covering up their waste with torn-up pieces of plastic bags to control odors, and sleeping near toilets filled with feces and menstrual blood.” When detained people at one facility protested, officials reported using force to shut them up.

Mother Jones reports that detainees at the privately operated Jackson Parish Correctional Center said they’d been without power, water, and working bathrooms for days, with the heat inside being described as so “unbearable” that they were allowed to sleep outside at night. ”On Saturday, the detainees protested, leading to a disturbance that prompted officers to use force against detainees, according to Jackson Parish Sheriff Andy Brown,” the report said. “’The show of force and the less lethal tools we used squashed this event,’ Brown wrote on Facebook. He said water and power had been restored to the facility.”

Mother Jones said that Scott Sutterfield, an executive with private prison profiteer LaSalle, claimed “there was no use of force reported at the facility,” but who can believe that when another LaSalle executive already misled Congress and claimed the company has no idea about abuses at LaSalle facilities? In fact, the use of violent force against detainees has surged amid the pandemic.

“The lack of transparency into these facilities have allowed guards to use force—including pepper spray, rubber bullets, and physical force—with impunity,” American Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney Eunice Cho told BuzzFeed News last month. “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has only grown worse, due in part to the fear of people in detention as the virus continues to spread in facilities, sickening and killing people.”

Other detained people at Jackson Parish said some of the guards are also unmasked, further confirming the words of a federal judge who in May slammed ICE as having “failed in its duty to protect the safety and general well-being” of detainees. “ICE lists only nine active coronavirus cases at Jackson on its website,” Mother Jones reports, “although the agency’s public data is often several days out of date.”

This leads into another example as to how ICE is deceitful about COVID-19 numbers. While ICE’s site still only lists 45 detention workers as having tested positive for COVID-19, private prison officials have said that hundreds of workers have actually tested positive for the virus. ICE, tricky as ever, is only counting its own employees, not third-party contractors.

Both Sutterfield and ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox used the same wording to claim to Mother Jones “that power was back on at Jackson Parish and that water was being pumped in via a tanker,” but this is disputed by a number of detainees who said they still can’t use their toilets. I’m more inclined to believe them.

Prism’s Tina Vasquez reported in March that a number of Cameroonian asylum-seekers who had protested conditions at a Texas detention center were moved to Jackson Parish after complaining. Vasquez reported that Texas-based organizer Deborah Alemu told her a fear “is that ICE has taken the asylum-seekers away from their attorneys and moved them to more ‘remote and hostile detention centers.’” And hostile they clearly are.

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