Second ICE detainee at Port Isabel Center tests positive for COVID-19

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday confirmed that a second detainee inside the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos tested positive for COVID-19.

ICE said in a statement that “One additional detainee has tested positive for COVID-19.” The detainee is a 19-year-old from Haiti, according to the agency. On May 14, ICE confirmed its first coronavirus case inside PIDC — a 20-year-old male from Mexico. The agency declined to provide any additional information on the condition of the infected detainees.

Reports of the case spread among Rio Grande Valley-based organizing networks before ICE updated the list of positive cases published on its website later in the day. ICE’s published COVID-19 guidance on Thursday stated the agency’s total detained population was 25,911 as of May 23.

The reduction in the number of ICE book-ins is likely a direct result of the March 20 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order allowing the administration to immediately return those who enter the country without documents to Canada or Mexico in a process called rapid expulsion.

Where returns to Mexico or Canada are not possible, the individuals are returned to their country of origin, according to CBP. U.S. Border Patrol enforcement statistics showed the agency apprehended a total of 15,862 individuals without documents along the southwest border last month.

Reports state 14,416 were Title 42 expulsions in which Border Patrol and CBP’s Office of Field Operations expelled migrants to the country of last transit or home country “in the interest of public health” under the CDC order.

Advocates have tracked these expulsion flights, potentially carrying infected migrants back to Colombia, Jamaica, and Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and other countries in Latin America. Notably, the administration has ceased processing new asylum claims at U.S. ports of entry.

The return of asylum seekers to a country where they face a likelihood of persecution or torture based on race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political opinion is known as “refoulement” under the United Nations Convention Against Torture and is prohibited under both U.S. and international law.

An advocate who has made welfare visits at PIDC for over a year and is in touch with dozens of detainees inside the facility said a detainee sent a message regarding the alleged case prior to ICE’s confirmation. Various detainees informed the advocate and a Valley-based immigration organizer that a pod of 20 detainees was allegedly under quarantine.

Asked if the agency could confirm whether PIDC had been quarantined due to possible COVID-19 exposure, ICE wrote that “Detainees who meet CDC criteria for epidemiologic risk of exposure to COVID-19 are housed separately from the general population. ICE places detainees with fever and/or respiratory symptoms in a single medical housing room, or in a medical airborne infection isolation room specifically designed to contain biological agents, such as COVID-19. This prevents the spread of the agent to other individuals and the general public. ICE transports individuals with moderate to severe symptoms, or those who require higher levels of care or monitoring, to appropriate hospitals with expertise in high-risk care. Detainees who do not have fever or symptoms, but meet CDC criteria for epidemiologic risk, are housed separately in a single cell, or as a group, depending on available space.”

“ICE reviews CDC guidance daily and continues to update protocols to remain consistent with CDC guidance.”