La Palma Correctional Center now has had 366 confirmed Covid-19 cases, making it the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) jail with the highest cumulative case total in the nation. The massive increase follows the saturation testing of all detained migrants on August 19th, as specified in new letters written by migrants at the jail. Previously, ICE refused to universally test people in their care at La Palma, which prevented people in detention from receiving critical care and the public from knowing the true scope of the COVID-19 spread.
The letters further detail rampant medical neglect and human rights abuses at La Palma. Local and national organizations are calling for La Palma to be shut down.
According to a letter signed by six LGBTQ migrants, officials punished them when they reported sexual harassment and assault by locking them in isolation units alongside migrants with active Covid-19 infections. “They put us in cells where people with COVID-19 symptoms were in previously, without sanitizing it,” the letter asserts. La Palma officials also forced migrants to take photos with cleaning supplies, but then prohibited their actual use. “Once the photos were taken, the cleaning products were removed” and migrants were left to clean with just water.
“It is unconscionable that people in immigration detention continue to be trapped inside these facilities as this virus spreads like wildfire.”
Laura St. John, Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project
A second letter, signed by 11 Cubans detained at La Palma, confirms that migrants who report injustices are sent to “the hole” alongside those with active Covid-19 infections. “There is no medicine, only isolation,” the letter attests. Desperation at La Palma drove at least nine migrants to attempt suicide, the letter indicates, including three of the signatories. One hanged himself with a sheet; a second tied a noose around his neck. The letter mentions that a Russian, who was not a signatory of the letter, swallowed a razor blade and a piece of chain link. A CoreCivic spokesperson called the attempted suicide testimonies “patently false”. Migrant justice organizations in Arizona are investigating the cases but have been impeded by ICE’s lack of records and lack of transparency.
With revelations of extreme medical neglect at La Palma and high rates of gynecological procedures, including hysterectomies without patient consent in Georgia as brought forth by a whistleblower complaint last week, Trans Queer Pueblo, No More Deaths, Florence Project, Santa Fe Dreamers Project, Detention Watch Network, Raíces, and Planned Parenthood Advocacy Arizona call on ICE to shut down La Palma Correctional Center and #FreeThemAll from ICE custody in Arizona.
“Detention Watch Network applauds the brave efforts of people in detention to expose the horrifying abuse they’re experiencing at the La Palma facility,” said Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network. “We know unequivocally that no one is safe in ICE custody. This is an arbitrary and xenophobic system that ICE operates within a culture of violence and secrecy that results in system-wide abuses. We must listen to the accounts of people in detention and act urgently to abolish the immigration detention system in its entirety.”
Trans Queer Pueblo held a virtual event on facebook on Tuesday where previously detained migrants will read from the latest La Palma letters “Battle Cries: Letters From a Migrant Jail” and gave updates on the movement to shut down La Palma.
“It is unconscionable that people in immigration detention continue to be trapped inside these facilities as this virus spreads like wildfire,” expressed Laura St. John, Legal Director, Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project. “The government either does not have the interest or the ability to contain this virus inside detention centers, and people’s lives are on the line. Thousands of people in immigration detention have been unnecessarily exposed to and become ill with COVID-19 because ICE and the federal government refuse to release them. We reiterate today that release from detention is the only way to protect the health and safety of detained migrants.”
The letters can be viewed in full here.
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