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Biden admin doesn’t have to repeat past mistakes. It should release immigrants amid omicron surge

Per ICE data, Otay Mesa is reporting 79 confirmed cases as of Jan. 11. The facility, operated by private prison profiteer CoreCivic, has reported 744 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. In fact, two of the facilities currently with the worst numbers are also CoreCivic operated facilities, both in Arizona. 

Eloy Federal Contract Facility is reporting 92 confirmed cases, and has reported 1,195 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, La Palma Correctional Facility (LPCC) is reporting 93 confirmed cases, and has reported 2,383 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. It was the worst-hit immigration detention facility in the nation.

That was a direct result of ICE’s negligence. Recall the Department of Homeland Security inspector general report last year revealing that when immigrants detained at LPCC staged a peaceful protest over lack of safety measures including sufficient personal protective equipment, facility officers instead pepper-sprayed them. ”A letter signed by 182 LPCC detainees indicates the facility used pepper spray, pepper balls, and chemical agents, and punished protesting detainees with lengthy stays in segregation. We confirmed LPCC used chemical agents to end the protests,” the March 2021 report said.

More than 22,100 people are in ICE custody as of Jan. 10, slightly down from more than 22,500 the week prior. But as NPR reported Jan. 2, federal immigration officials have refused to state exactly how many of them have been vaccinated against COVID-19. What officials have said is that only a tiny fraction of them, roughly 500, have been boosted. 

In a letter last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged the Biden administration to implement a plan now. It’s only more urgent since omicron’s arrival. 

“It appears that ICE has no plan for detention facilities to provide booster shots to all who need them, or provide people with education on the importance of booster doses,” ACLU National Prison Project senior staff attorney Eunice Cho said. “This is yet another example of ICE’s cavalier approach to the health and safety of people in detention, in violation of their constitutional rights, and underscores the inherent danger of detention in the first place.” The Biden administration doesn’t have to repeat the mistakes of the previous administration.

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