Port Isabel detainee tests positive for coronavirus

The main entrance to the Port Isabel Detention Center on Sunday, June 24, 2018. Port Isabel is about 20 miles northwest of Brownsville. Reynaldo Leal for The Texas Tribune

ICE confirmed that a detainee in the Port Isabel Detention Center has tested positive for COVID-19.

The detainee is a 20-year-old male from Mexico, according to the agency.

ICE referred inquiries to the COVID-19 guidance listed on its website. According to that guidance, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations in March “convened a working group between medical professionals, disease control specialists, detention experts, and field operators to identify additional enhanced steps to minimize the spread of the virus.”

This resulted in the agency evaluating its detained population based on CDC guidance for individuals who may be at higher risk of severe illness as a result of the virus and releasing 900 individuals.

The agency also stated that this policy is being applied to all new arrestees, and the agency specified in another section that 192 individuals had been released by court order as of April 24. “Criminal charges or convictions included represent the most egregious crimes. Some individuals have more than one conviction or pending charge,” the agency wrote in a footnote above a chart detailing the criminal histories of the released detainees.

According to ICE’s statistics, roughly 27,000 immigrants are currently detained nationwide.

ICE claims to be provided appropriate personal protective equipment in accordance with CDC guidance to staff and patients including N95 masks, available respirators, and additional protective equipment.

“Detainees are being tested for COVID-19 in line with CDC guidance. In some cases, medical staff at ICE detention facilities are collecting specimens from ICE detainees for processing at a commercial or public health lab,” the agency wrote.

Other cases requiring a higher level of care are sent to a local hospital, according to the guidance while the agency is isolating those at risk for exposure and those displaying symptoms in medical isolation.

In March, detainees inside PIDC told local volunteers who have been making welfare visits to the detention center for over a year and a half they planned to organize a hunger strike due to a lack of protections being taken inside the facility.

A moveon.org petition sponsored by member of coalition Angry Tias and Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley reported that detainees inside PIDC must purchase soap from the commissary and only if they have the money to do so.

“The guards, arriving from their homes, walk in and out of the dormitories without gloves or masks and go from one dorm to the other in this manner throughout the day. There are 70 men to a dormitory so social distancing is impossible,” the Tias wrote.

Reports from a Brownsville-based attorney also indicated that detention center staff was requiring legal counsel to wear masks but was not providing the supplies. Reports indicated the agency eventually agreed to provide masks to visiting legal counsel but only as supplies were available.