Durbin, Colleagues Introduce Bicameral Bill to Require COVID-19 Data Collection in Immigration Detention Facilities

Legislation would provide public health experts, policymakers, immigration advocates, and the public with critical information about COVID-19 in immigration detention facilities.

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to introduce the bicameral COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act, which would require immigration-detention facilities to collect and publicly report data about COVID-19 cases and the preventative measures in place in these facilities.

“In the midst of this pandemic, we are reminded every day that America would be lost without immigrants. At the same time, thousands of immigrants are languishing in an inhumane detention system where the virus is spreading like wildfire. Data about COVID-19 cases in DHS and HHS facilities must be adequately tracked and reported to help address this crisis,” said Durbin.  “This legislation takes a step forward in ensuring that local leaders and public health experts have the data readily available to address the needs of these facilities.”

This legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Sylvia R. Garcia (D-TX), Filemon Vela (D-TX), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), and Al Green (D-TX).

COVID-19 presents serious risks to individuals in group settings, including in immigration detention. Tens of thousands of people are currently held in, or work in, facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), as well as in immigration-detention facilities that have contracted with these agencies. Many detained people cannot take precautionary measures such as social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment due to their close confinement and the limited resources available to them. Currently, available information about the number of COVID-19 cases affecting individuals in immigration detention is inadequate for the purpose of stopping the spread of the virus and protecting detainees, staff, and nearby communities. Federal reporting standards are necessary to protect against the virus and mitigate outbreaks.

The COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act provides public health experts, policymakers, immigration advocates, and the public with critical information about COVID-19 in immigration detention facilities. The bill creates reporting standards for agencies and facilities responsible for the custody and care of immigrant detainees. 

The bill would do the following:

  • Require ICE, CBP, ORR, and contract facilities to collect and submit COVID-19 data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a weekly basis and regularly publish this data on their websites. The data will be stored in a manner that protects an individual's privacy and may not be used against them in any future immigration proceedings.
  • Mandate that ICE, CBP, and ORR report to Congress on the protocols and practices in place at each detention facility under their jurisdiction, outlining the health standards, the standards of medical care provided to detainees, and the sanitation practices at each facility.
  • Require ICE, CBP, ORR, and the head of each contract facility to report to Congress on the efforts made to ensure detained individuals have access to legal counsel.
  • Ensure that detained individuals tested for COVID-19 have confidential access to all their test results and medical records, in their preferred language.

The COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act is endorsed by American Immigration Lawyers Association, Amnesty International USA, American Public Health Association, Church World Service, Freedom for Immigrants, Immigration Hub, Kino Border Initiative, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, National Immigration Law Center, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Partners in Health, and Southern Poverty Law Center.

“The Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act is a vital step towards ensuring the safety of people who are detained by DHS. Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen ICE refuse to take meaningful measures to protect the thousands of individuals currently in its custody, including failure to provide hygiene supplies, personal protective equipment, testing, and access to critical medical care. This legislation would require ICE to report key information, so that the public knows what ICE is doing to prevent the unnecessary illness and possible death of individuals in detention, government employees, and visitors,” said Kate Voigt, Senior Associate Director of Government Relations, American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“This bill is vital. Our immigrant detention system is immoral and unjustifiable. The unprecedented investment in punitive enforcement strategies is a failed experiment that has caused untold suffering in communities. Instead, we should be investing in community-based alternatives. Families and individuals have traveled thousands of miles in the hopes that they could participate in America. It is our duty that we do not leave them susceptible to the pandemic sweeping our world. Putting men, women, and children in detention shall remain wrong morally, but while the practice continues, these vulnerable people should be afforded the right to care, not subjected to the risk of COVID-19,” said Reverend John L McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service.

“Medical neglect and abuse in DHS detention facilities have long been at crisis levels - with the onset of the pandemic, this past fiscal year became one of the deadliest in DHS's history. The COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act is a critical step forward in addressing the human rights abuses inside the walls of these immigration jails,” said Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas Advocacy Director, Amnesty International USA. 

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE has acted directly against the guidance of public health experts. People in detention report deterioration in detention conditions and continued lack of access to essential supplies, including personal protective equipment and soap. It is clear that our current laws are not enough to ensure a transparent government," said Sarah Gardiner, Policy Director at Freedom for Immigrants. "Freedom for Immigrants has consistently documented numerous inaccuracies, omissions, and errors in ICE's public reporting on COVID-19. ICE's deception, incompetency, and false statements have resulted in a rate of infection in immigration detention that is outrageously disproportionate to national averages. This bill is a step toward more transparency, as we continue to call on the next administration to drastically reduce detention levels."

“Every day we receive people at our migrant aid center who have been deported, some from Eloy, an Arizona detention center that reported the most COVID-19 cases of any ICE facility in the US this fall. Migrants arriving in Nogales share that they are denied medical care and that they plead with guards to change their gloves before serving food.  We have looked into the eyes of a man who self-deported for fear he would die of COVID in detention.  The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act would provide for more accountability in immigrant detention and greater protection of migrants from the Coronavirus. In the end, as people of faith we cannot turn a blind eye to this injustice that is happening behind closed doors,” said Father Sean Carroll, SJ, Executive Director, Kino Border Initiative.