COVID-19 gives ICE a new layer of protection from accountability and transparency

COVID-19 gives ICE a new layer of protection from accountability and transparency

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has refused to release children and parents from crowded, dangerous detention facilities, even as COVID-19 was discovered at one of the jails. And it’s happening without meaningful oversight, thanks to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General deciding to cut off most in-person inspections of the facilities.

The DHS watchdog has repeatedly found terrible conditions in migrant detention centers, but a June report finding that social distancing and isolating or quarantining sick people wasn’t really possible was conducted remotely, through surveys. And in-person inspections aren’t happening for safety reasons while COVID-19 is a concern. In other words, the conditions in which ICE is holding thousands of migrants are too dangerous for inspectors to even visit, so the public won’t be getting a clear picture of how bad things are, and the Trump administration won’t be coming under pressure to change. Isn’t that convenient.

“OIG’s refusal to conduct on-site inspections of ICE and CBP facilities means there will be no oversight at a moment when oversight is needed more than ever,” Elora Mukherjee, of the Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, told BuzzFeed News. “To prevent more deaths, DHS should release immigrants immediately.”

But instead of releasing people, ICE will be able to continue its abusive practices without even the intermittent spotlight of inspections and reports from the inspector general. 

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