COVID-19 Outbreak At Migrant Facility Infects At Least 150 People

Note the migrant facility described in the story. (Photo by DARIO LOPEZ-MILLS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Bradley Devlin General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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An outbreak at a migrant processing center in Tacoma, Washington, has infected at least 150 people, the Seattle Times reported Tuesday.

COVID-19 has infected at least 150 individuals, including seven guards and a federal health care worker,  since the outbreak at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Processing Center in Tacoma in early June, the Seattle Times reported, based on a lawyer’s account of events. The lawyer, Aaron Korthuis of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, additionally claimed that the agency has released 570 migrants deemed high-risk of contracting COVID-19 from the facility, according to the Seattle Times.

Due to the pandemic, ICE has attempted to mitigate overcrowding at migrant facilities by diffusing the migrants throughout the agency’s processing infrastructure. The agency has thus decided to transfer almost 1,100 migrants to the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, a document submitted in federal court by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Washington claimed, according to the Seattle Times.

Nearly all of the individuals who caught COVID-19 tested positive for the virus shortly after reaching the Northwest ICE Processing Center, the Seattle Times noted. This development sparked immigrant rights groups, such as the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, to allege that the government is not taking adequate precautions regarding COVID-19, according to the Seattle Times.

The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have now sued President Joe Biden’s administration over ICE’s COVID-19 policies in a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of the migrant detainees, the Seattle Times reported. The group is arguing that the Northwest ICE Processing Center is not complying with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to the outlet. (RELATED: What Happens At Border Patrol Checkpoints?)

Cristian Amaya Vargas, a 33-year-old asylum-seeker from Columbia represented in the lawsuit, caught COVID-19 during the outbreak and claimed he had chills, fever, nausea and pneumonia and that he needed to be briefly hospitalized, the Seattle Times reported.

The government claimed in legal documents that while the protocols, “may not follow the ideal scenario,” it is aiming to meet federal public health guidance, which would involve “testing and a 14-day quarantine would occur at the originating facility before transfer and again at the destination facility at intake; at a minimum it should occur at one facility or the other,” the Seattle Times reported.

Legal documents also claim that ICE verbally screens migrants for COVID-19 symptoms, but does not test them if they do not self-report coming into contact with someone who had COVID-19, the Seattle Times reported. They also claim the agency does not routinely test migrants for COVID-19 — only if they are not displaying symptoms, the outlet noted.

However, the agency reportedly does check the migrant’s temperatures before transferring them to other facilities on flights. The government also argues that even COVID-19 rapid tests, which take 15 minutes to process, would not be feasible while transferring large numbers of migrants, according to the Seattle Times.

Korthuis and Amaya Vargas, however, maintain that as ICE transfers migrants, they allegedly do not separate individuals based on whether they have been exposed or are displaying COVID-19 symptoms, according to the Seattle Times.

In other parts of the country, COVID-19 positive migrants have been released by federal authorities and placed in hotels that have been rented out by charities for COVID-19 positive migrants, however, migrants in these hotels have reportedly not been quarantining. McAllen, Texa, was forced to declare a state of emergency after 1,500 COVID-19 positive migrants were reportedly released into the community.

Since Biden came into office, law enforcement personnel have been dealing with a record-setting crisis at the country’s southern border.