ICE Detention Centers & COVID-19

Recently, many individuals and organizations have criticized United States federal agencies due to rising allegations of mistreatment towards detainees. Several incidents have made headlines, particularly surrounding the Irwin County Detention Center, which is run and operated by LaSalle Operations. According to nurse Dawn Wooten, who worked regularly at the center, detainees are denied COVID-19 tests, personal protective equipment, and were forced into facilities where social distancing was not enforced. Additionally, Wooten claims that positive test results were hidden from both the detention center employees and detainees themselves, putting all individuals on the premises in danger. This negligence resulted in the passing of Wooten’s coworker. She also claims that by seeking justice, her full time status was reduced to “as needed” (Triesman, 2020).

According to an article by Frontline, ICE only tracks Coronavirus cases and deaths that occur within their facilities. This means that detainees who test positive and are either released or deported would not be counted in their tallies (PBS, 2020). By ignoring such a vast amount of cases, the amount of detained people who do test positive could be widely underrepresented, and the unsafe practices that occur within these detention centers are able to continue. Wooten claims that by allowing this, ICE and detention center officials are accelerating the virus’ spread. By releasing and deporting sick individuals, the virus can also begin to spread into other vulnerable communities.

Detention center conditions have always been unsanitary, even prior to the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic. According to an investigation conducted by American Oversight, inadequate health treatment, overcrowding, lack of food and cold temperatures are just a few of the problems that detainees face everyday. Their system for administering medical care, referred to as MEDPAR, is deeply flawed, and only monitored by ICE staff. A detainee could fall ill and request medical assistance, but their request would only be considered by whichever ICE staff member was assigned to this task. In this way, many requests for help can go unanswered, and an unqualified individual could be responsible for the health of tens, or even hundreds of people. For this reason, diseases like the flu and MUMPS have been known to spread rampant throughout detention centers (American Oversight, 2020).


Treisman, R. (2020, September 16). Whistleblower Alleges 'Medical Neglect,' Questionable Hysterectomies Of ICE Detainees. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from

How ICE Data Undercounts COVID-19 Victims. (n.d.). Retrieved November 05, 2020, from

Conditions in Migrant Detention Centers. (2020, July 31). Retrieved November 05, 2020, from

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