May 21, 2020 – American Oversight sued the Trump administration on Thursday for failing to release documents regarding the federal government’s response to the coronavirus and its impact on vulnerable populations in prisons and immigration detention centers. 

Prisons and immigration detention centers, like cruise ships and nursing homes, are prone to outbreaks of disease given the close proximity of the people within them. According to the Bureau of Prisons, as of May 19, 2,298 federal inmates and 198 BOP staff had confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide, with 2,109 inmates and 375 staff having recovered and 57 inmates having died from the disease.

American Oversight is investigating what if any steps the federal government took to prevent those deaths and protect the people in its custody. In March, we filed a suite of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The requests sought the release of directives, risk assessments, and other documents containing key terms related to the coronavirus and vulnerable populations, including the communications of department leadership. The agencies failed to release the requested documents as required by law, leading American Oversight to file suit.

As cases in federal prisons skyrocket, reporting by CBSPolitico, and other news organizations suggest that the crisis is quickly escalating in ICE detention centers. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, at least 1,000 people in ICE custody have contracted the coronavirus.

“It is too easy, and we are too willing, to cast aside the humanity of the people we detain,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “It’s important that the public know how and if the federal government has protected the people in its care. As we attend to the impacts of this crisis in our own lives, it is essential that we remember our responsibilities to one another. We cannot and should not allow ourselves to obscure or disregard the tragedy taking place in our federal prisons and at our borders.”

American Oversight has filed more than 500 public records requests with federal and state government agencies to investigate the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus, including requests in Georgia and Florida related to outbreaks in local prisons and jails. More information on our investigation, the records we’ve received, and a comprehensive list of our coronavirus-related public records requests are available here.

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