19 ICE employees have tested positive for coronavirus. Photo: United States Customs and Border Protection, Wikimedia Commons.

An undocumented Mexican national became the first known case of coronavirus at an immigrant detainment center on Mar. 24. Immigration advocates and the medical community have been warning immigration officials about the potential of coronavirus spread at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainment centers for months.

The 31-year-old victim has been quarantined at the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey, and all detainees who interacted with the man have reportedly been isolated. 

ICE officials claim they’re taking measures that are  “consistent with CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines.”

But for over a week, immigration rights advocates have been calling for ICE to act before coronavirus reached detainment centers.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought a lawsuit against ICE, requesting the release of all at-risk detainees to prevent coronavirus spread and related deaths. 

But since the CDC called to limit gatherings of 10 people or more, courthouses have suspended hearings and trials until further notice.

Immigration advocates believe that the crowded conditions at detainment centers, and their restrictions, will lead to more detainee infections. “They don’t have control over being around people or keeping their distance. They don’t have control over being able to wash their hands. At lots of these facilities, they don’t have any hand sanitizer,” Gregory Copeland, immigration attorney at Rapid Defense Network, said.

With nearly 38,000 detainees in ICE custody and coronavirus continuing its spread throughout the country, medical doctors are calling for ICE to immediately release detainees.

“Over and over we’ve seen that the care that they’re receiving is inadequate, and that’s when we’re not facing the kind of health crisis that’s now upon us.” Nathaniel Kratz, internist at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, said.


Herbert Norat (he/him/his) is a contributing writer for Pulso. A Bronx-born writer of Puerto Rican and Nicaraguan descent, he owns a small business, works as a library researcher, and writes for Bronx Narratives and The New York Public Library. Herbert lives with his fiance and daughter in the Bronx.