More than 1,000 ICE detainees have tested positive for COVID-19

Several factors, including the release of more than 1,000 detainees for coronavirus-related reasons, have recently lead to a 27 percent decrease in the number of ICE detainees

ICE special agent in June 2018
ICE special agent in June 2018
(Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Updated: June 24, 2020 - 8:52pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook


The number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees who have tested positive for coronavirus climbed from just one person on March 25 to 1,312 people on May 26.

Fifty-two ICE detention facilities reported that they had detainees who tested positive for the illness as of May 26, according to a Department of Homeland Security watchdog report about how ICE detention facilities fared amid the early part of the COVID-19 crisis. The Inspector General noted that 188 facilities responded to its survey that took place in April.

While social distancing has consistently been trumpeted as key to stemming the spread of the illness, workers at facilities that responded to the survey in April expressed concerns about not being able to have detainees engage in social distancing. And similarly, workers at some facilities expressed concerns about not possessing the capability to isolate and quarantine potentially infected detainees.

Dedicated facilities only hold ICE detainees while non-dedicated facilities hold ICE detainees in addition to other people such as state or local inmates—31 dedicated facilities and 157 non-dedicated facilities responded the Inspector General survey.

While all 31 dedicated facilities indicated an ability to quarantine or isolate detainees confirmed to have contracted coronavirus, 15 percent of non-dedicated facilities reported not having that ability.

Workers reported taking actions to stem the spread of the virus, such as implementing extra cleaning and disinfecting.

"Overall, 93 percent (175) of personnel at facilities reported they were prepared to handle COVID-19," the Inspector General report notes.

Most facilities reported having sufficient quantities of supplies like masks for infected or potentially infected detainees and liquid soap, though more than one third of facilities indicated they had an insufficient supply of hand sanitizer for detainees.

There were concerns about keeping sufficient availability of personal protective equipment for staff and possible shortages.

"We asked facilities whether they had enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies on hand for all facility staff. Most facilities reported having enough gloves and disinfectant cleaning agents, and about two-thirds said they had enough N95 respirators if a COVID-19 outbreak were to occur," the report said.

"Many facilities expressed concern about maintaining sufficient supplies of PPE, as well as future shortages, if the pandemic continues. When asked about major challenges related to the spread of COVID-19, the facilities’ biggest concern was availability of PPE. Thirty percent (56) of facilities expressed these concerns," according to the report.

Facilities reported experiencing staff availability decreases, but many indicated that they had contingency plans if needed that would allow them to continue functioning. One facility reported that it would have to close if a detainee tested positive: "We do not have any medical staff. If any detainee tests positive for COVID-19 we will have to shut down the detention facility…we do not have the medical capacity to house anyone with COVID-19," that facility explained.

More than 1,000 ICE detainees were released for reasons pertaining to the pandemic from March 17 to May 5 — this along with several other factors has recently resulted in a significant decrease in the number of ICE detainees. 

"Ultimately, the combination of judicial releases, releases related to COVID-19, the adjustment in ICE’s enforcement posture, and continued repatriations has resulted in a large decrease in ICE’s detention population: On April 1, 2020, ICE’s detained population was 35,457; by May 26, 2020, 25,939 detainees were in ICE custody, a decrease of 27 percent," the report noted.

Shop Our Store