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Families Fearful Amid COVID-19 Outbreaks in Louisiana, Mississippi ICE Prisons; Two Guards Die

Baldomero Orozco Juarez, an ICE prisoner in Louisiana
Baldomero Orozco Juarez, an ICE prisoner in Louisiana, has an illness that could make him vulnerable to COVID-19, his family said in a video message. / Image courtesy Mississippi Resiste

A Louisiana detention center’s failure to comply with its own COVID-19 policies led to the deaths of two guards and an outbreak at the Richwood Correctional Center in Monroe, an immigrants rights group alleges. The privately run Monroe prison, which contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has confirmed 46 cases of novel coronavirus among its detainees.

In a press release today, the Immigrant Alliance of Justice and Equity of Mississippi cited federal judge Jesus Bernal’s ruling last week which ordered ICE to review detainees’ cases at a facility in San Bernardino, California, and to “release those at high risk due to pre-existing medical conditions.”

One detainee, Baldomero Orozco Juarez, whom ICE agents arrested in the August 2019 workplace raids that targeted undocumented workers at Mississippi chicken plants, should not be in the facility, said lawyer Jeremy Long. 

“He suffers from chronic kidney issues, which place him at high risk of dying from COVID-19 if he contracts the virus. Both ICE’s own COVID-19 rules and federal judge Jesus Bernal have ordered ICE officers in Louisiana to consider release for people with chronic kidney issues, yet Baldomero remains detained in Catahoula Correctional Center,” Long said in Friday morning’s statement.

‘An Injustice’

Private prison company LaSalle Corrections owns and operates both the Richwood Center in Monroe and the Catahoula Correctional Center in Harrisonburg, Louisiana. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

This morning, the activist page Mississippi Resiste posted a video on Facebook of Baldomero’s wife pleading for his release.

“It has already been an injustice that he is still detained after nine months and he has not committed a single crime in this country. Now he might be sentenced to death because of the virus?,” says the woman, her face hidden as their two children, a boy and a girl, sit at her feet. The clip does not identify her by name.

Baldomero’s wife is legally blind and their youngest child has a developmental disorder, Mississippi Resiste’s post reads.

As of April 29, 2020, ICE has tested fewer than 1,000 of its nearly 30,000 detainees nationwide, with 449 confirmed positive for the virus. Almost a quarter of them are detained in facilities across the Deep South region. ICE has confirmed cases at facilities in Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

ICE cases in the Deep South as of April 29, 2020. / Chart by William Pittman for Deep South Voice.

‘A Recipe for Disaster’

In the past, most undocumented immigrants were able to continue living at home while their cases wound through federal immigration courts and the government considered whether or not to deport them. Since 2018, though, the Trump administration has focused almost singularly on locking immigrants up. ICE has contracted with dozens of private prisons across the Deep South and other parts of the country to open new detainment centers.

If the federal government resumed the pre-2018 approach and released detainees to home detention, IAJE and other immigrants rights groups argue, it could prevent an explosion of cases and deaths in ICE prisons.

In Thursday’s statement, IAJE co-founder Lorena Quiroz said it is necessary for Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves and Congressman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who serves as chair of the US House Committee on Homeland Security (which oversees federal immigration agencies), to take swift action. She pointed to the Adams County Correctional Facility in Natchez where 12 detainees have tested positive already. 

U.S. House Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.)

“This thing is coming for Natchez where there are already many confirmed cases in the prison. As we see in Richwood, continued detention is a recipe for disaster: both guards and medically vulnerable inmates are going to need intensive care and the rural hospitals are not ready for that,” Quiroz said. “Representative Thompson and Governor Reeves must act now or have to answer for the deaths of many in our state.”

Follow the latest novel coronavirus data in the Deep South states using DSV’s COVID-19 tracking tool, which covers Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina with daily updates on the numbers of deaths, cases, tests, and more at dsv.news/covid19.

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