May 6, 2020 – A new paper captures the results of a modeling project that demonstrates that the rapid spread of COVID-19 in immigrant detention facilities will have a substantial impact on immigrants and local health care systems if the population in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention is not substantially decreased.

The project, which involved a consortium of experts from Brown University, Brandeis University, University of British Columbia, British Columbia Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and George Mason University, uses publicly available data to estimate the number of COVID-19 cases within ICE detention facilities at varying levels of virus transmissibility, as well as the capacity of local hospitals to care for additional ICE detainee patients over 30-, 60-, and 90-day time horizons.

The study found that 72% of individuals are expected to be infected by day 90 under the optimistic scenario, while nearly 100% of individuals are expected to be infected by day 90 under a more pessimistic scenario. The study also determined that, in the most optimistic scenario, coronavirus outbreaks among a minimum of 58 ICE facilities (52%) would overwhelm ICU beds within a 10- mile radius, and outbreaks among a minimum of 3 ICE facilities (3%) would overwhelm local ICU beds within a 50-mile radius over a 90-day period, provided every ICU bed were made available for sick detainees. The paper concludes:

The public health implications of this study are critical. They suggest that decisive action on the part of ICE will not only reduce morbidity and mortality outcomes in its population of detained immigrants, but minimize negative health outcomes in the communities that support ICE’s detention facilities with health care resources. If hesitation prevails instead, and more limited measures on the part of ICE prove ineffective, then the successful social distancing strategies implemented in a community may be undone by the large number of detainee infectious disease cases that its hospitals must care for.”

As of April 24, 2020, ICE reported that 317 detainees and 124 ICE employees had tested positive for COVID-19.

Government Accountability Project client Dr. Josiah “Jody” Rich, a clinician and Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Brown University who specializes in infectious disease and public health, and Dr. Traci Green, an epidemiologist at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, organized the research consortium. Dr. Rich also serves as medical subject matter expert in detention health, along with Dr. Scott Allen, for the Department of Homeland Security’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Government Accountability Project represents both Dr. Rich and Dr. Allen in their efforts to raise the alarm to DHS and Congress about the risk immigrant detention poses to immigrant, worker and public health, urging the immediate release of immigrants as part of the national response to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel and attorney for Drs. Allen and Rich, commented,

“This modeling confirms Drs. Rich and Allen’s warnings to DHS in February and to Congress in March that immigrant detention poses a risk of a rapid spread of COVID-19 among immigrants, workers, and the general public that could overwhelm local health care facilities. With increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections at ICE detention facilities being reported, this data bolsters recent decisions by courts to release immigrant detainees and calls by Congress seeking immediate release of immigrant detainees to address this clear health emergency.”

Dr. Green stated,

“Our analysis shows that individuals in ICE detention facilities are going to suffer rates of infection of nearly 72% even in the most optimistic scenario by being in congregate settings, with substantial numbers becoming so sick as to need hospitalization and ICU care. Keeping immigrants in detention is exacerbating what is already a public health crisis, which is why our interdisciplinary team of researchers recommends prompt widespread release of immigrants from these dangerous environments.”

The paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Urban Health and will be available in pre-publication with an interactive website that demonstrates modeling results at each ICE detention facility in the country.

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.