A staff member at the Elizabeth Detention Center, a privately run immigrant detention facility in New Jersey, has self-quarantined and was tested for the COVID-19 virus, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Documented.
“As of March 13, 2020, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Elizabeth Detention Center,” ICE said in a statement.
The facility is located in Elizabeth, N.J. and has a capacity of 304 detainees, according to ICE data released to the National Immigrant Justice Center in 2017. The facility is run by CoreCivic, a private company that detains thousands of immigrants nationwide.
In the past week, New York area detention facilities and immigration courts have been scrambling to respond to the rapidly spreading coronavirus. All county jails that house immigrant detainees – including Essex, Hudson, and Bergen – have banned contact visits, allowing for only video conference meetings or in-person meetings separated through glass partitions.
On Saturday, the Executive Office of Immigration Review announced that non-detained master calendar hearings at New York City’s immigration courts would be postponed. All detained master calendar hearings for immigrants would continue, as would individual hearings. Immigration lawyers said that judges in New York City closed their courtrooms to family and friends of immigrants appearing in the courts at the end of last week.
However, ICE said it will continue to arrest immigrants despite the increasingly stark warnings from local politicians for all New York area residents to stay inside as much as possible.
“While our law enforcement officers and agents continue daily enforcement operations to make criminal and civil arrests, prioritizing individuals who threaten our national security and public safety,” the agency said in a statement to Documented. “We remain committed to the health and safety of our employees and the general public.”
“What we do next will have a massive impact on the trajectory of this virus in New York,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote in a tweet. “We can only maintain public health by STAYING APART. The decision each of makes now will impact us all tomorrow. STAY HOME.”
ICE continuing to target and arrest immigrants may also put the agency at odds with the local detention facilities. Hudson County Correctional Facility notified ICE that they will not accept detainees who have been to China, Italy, or Iran in the last 60 days, according to spokesperson James Kennelly.
New Jersey immigration detention centers have previously come under fire for substandard conditions that endanger ICE detainees’ health. During the Trump administration, 30 detainees have died in immigration detention. The inmate population in prisons and jails are among the most vulnerable to health crises like coronavirus, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Any confined space is concerning,” said Chia-Chia Wang, organizing and advocacy director of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in New Jersey. Wang, who regularly engages with local authorities and prison officials to improve detention conditions, is worried about a possible coronavirus outbreak.
In April, a delegation of elected officials toured the Elizabeth detention center for nearly three hours. The group included Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, Rep. Gregory Meeks, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Rep. Adriano Espaillat, three New York congressmen.
“It’s stark. They don’t have separate dormitories,” Rep. Frank Pallone said in a press conference after the tour. “They have a cot and they’re all together.”