Large Numbers at Risk in ICE Detention Facilities for the COVID-19 Virus
As of April 11, 2020 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports they were holding 32,309 individuals in custody. Almost six out of every ten of these individuals—or 18,535—had never been convicted of even a minor petty offense. ICE states that the agency "is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments." Yet with the rising death toll across this country from the COVID-19 virus, ICE's commitment is being questioned.
While testing remains very limited, ICE is reported as already identifying 124 individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 across 25 of its detention facilities. Additionally, two recent flights deporting ICE detainees to Guatemala were found to have large numbers of people who were already infected with the virus. As many experts have pointed out, given the ease with which the virus can spread and the impossibility of adhering to social distance guidelines, there is little to prevent detainees housed in close proximity to one another in these facilities to avoid becoming infected should anyone—whether a newly arriving detainee or a member of the staff—become infected.
Where are ICE detainees at risk of COVID-19 currently being held? ICE has not released current specifics. Data are available, however, for facilities which ICE reports it used at some time during FY 2020. A total of 35 out of the 184 on the list were so-called "dedicated facilities," which exclusively housed ICE detainees. The others housed individuals also held for other law enforcement agencies. Most were licensed to hold detainees for lengthy periods, if required. However, 30 of the 184 were only authorized to house ICE detainees temporarily for up to 72 hours. Table 1 at the end of this report provides a detailed listing of each of the facilities which ICE reports using as of April 6, 2020 at some point during the past fiscal year along with average number of detainees ICE housed there.
ICE Detainees with Pending Court Cases
Many ICE detainees only spend brief periods in detention as they are quickly removed from the country. For detainees with cases pending before the Immigration Court, periods of confinement can be much longer while they wait for their hearings to be held. The latest case-by-case court files as of March 31, 2020 obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, record the location for 20,935 of these ICE detainees who were being held waiting for their various hearings before the Immigration Court. This number is less than the total number of ICE detainees nationwide because a substantial number of ICE detainees can be administratively removed without any hearing before an immigration judge, or have already been ordered removed and are awaiting deportation.
Figure 1 shows the top 10 ICE facilities where according to court records these individuals currently are being detained. All ten are operated by for-profit companies. The GEO Group operates five out of the ten. CoreCivic operates four. For the most part, these detention facilities parallel the top 10 facilities ICE utilized during FY 2020 listed in Table 1 below.
Figure 1. ICE Detention Facilities Holding the Most Immigrants Waiting for Their Immigration Court Hearing as of the End of March 2020
(Click for larger image)
Texas, California, Louisiana, and Arizona each have two facilities among the top ten. The largest facility is the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Texas housing 964. Also in Texas is the Pearsall Detention Facility where 833 are currently being held. The second largest number are held at the Adelanto Detention Center in California with 947 detainees. The second facility amid the top ten in California is the Otay Mesa Detention Center with 420.
Louisiana has two facilities in the top ten waiting for hearings in Immigrant Court. This includes the Lasalle Detention Facility with 636, followed by the Winn Correctional Center with 615.
Arizona also has two of the top 10 ICE facilities. These are the La Palma Correctional Center which currently houses 540, while the Eloy Detention Center holds 530.
Washington and Mississippi each have a single facility in the top ten. A total of 468 immigrants are waiting their court hearings while currently detained in Washington's Northwest Detention Center. Mississippi's Adams County Correctional Center is currently housing 380.
 April 17, 2020 AP report, "Scant testing in US migration system risks spreading virus."
 See TRAC Report "Legal Noncitizens Receive Longest ICE Detention."
 Separate court hearing locations do not take place for jails and other detention facilities where a smaller number of ICE detainees are housed. Instead a single hearing location may process detainees at multiple detention facilities surrounding that location and detainees are either bussed in for their hearings, or videoconferencing is used. For these, available court records don't enumerate the names of these facilities or the number of detainees at each. Thus, court data while helpful does not provide a complete listing of the detention facilities immigrants with court cases are being held.
 While the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas shows the fifth average number of ICE detainees in FY 2020, court data indicate only 5 cases were recorded as being held at that facility at the end of March 2020 with pending cases before the court. Also, the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, while having the second largest number of ICE detainees in FY 2020, came in 11th in court records and thus just missed the top 10 shown in Figure 1.
Table 1. Where ICE Is Currently Detaining Immigrants During FY 2020
(October 2019 through April 6, 2020)
(Click on column header to sort)
TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact email@example.com or call 315-443-3563.