Congress turns attention to ICE detention facility conditions during COVID-19 pandemic

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WASHINGTON D.C. (Nexstar) — The House Homeland Security committee is taking a look at how ICE is operating its detention facilities during the pandemic.

Last week, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that ICE has until mid-July to release migrant children in family detention centers, citing COVID-19 concerns at these facilities.

Advocates say more needs to be done.

New York Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice says thousands of migrants in U.S. custody have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“It is clear that ICE and its contractors have not taken this outbreak seriously and have not treated it aggressively enough,” Rice said.

Rice says right now the facilities are crammed and safety measures are left up to the private contractors that operate them.

Damon Hininger, with the private prison company CoreCivic, told lawmakers his company is ensuring the employees and detainees at its 16 detention centers are safe and healthy.

“We suspended in-person visitation in March,” Hininger said. “Our staff are required to wear a mask, and we provide masks to both our staff and detainees in our ice facilities.”

Hininger added that every employee or individual undergoes a temperature check and is screened for COVID-19 symptoms before entering the facility.

“CoreCivic separately houses from the general population any detainee who tests positive for COVID-19 or who is exposed to a positive case,” Hininger said.

But Rice says that’s not enough. She says ICE instead should pursue alternatives to detention and “release those detainees who pose no threat to communities.”

“It is completely righteous to question ICE’s treatment and response to COVID-19, but let us not go too far,” Louisiana Republican Congressman Clay Higgins said.

Higgins added releasing detainees also risks spreading the virus into the community.

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