Florida Judge Orders ICE To Report Positive Coronavirus Employees From Third Party Contractors

A federal judge in South Florida ordered United States immigration officials to release the number of employees, and detainees, who have contracted COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus pandemic, under their care.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims on its website that third-party contractors are not considered "staff" members, and that the agency is not obligated to report how many employees have coronavirus.

However, U.S. Attorney General Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman said the information must be released by Friday for the three detention centers in South Florida.

"To the contrary, it is designed to encompass anyone and everyone who works at the three facilities — including, by way of example, employees of third party contractors who provide services and personnel to the detention centers," he said.

"The purpose of the declarations is to provide the Court with information, and the information should be comprehensive and not limited by technicalities, such as whether a guard or officer is a government employee or an employee of a third-party contractor or contracting vendor," Goodman said in The Herald. "For purposes of gauging the health risk to detainees, it matters little whether a COVID-19-infected guard or officer receives a paycheck from the United States or from Akima (or some other company)."

The Miami newspaper reported that a third-party contractor called Akima Global Services operates the Krome detention center in Miami-Dade County, of which two guards had reportedly caught the virus. Another 60 employees had been sent home because they had either tested for the virus or had been in contact.

The Herald also reported Tuesday night that ICE said it did not have to release information on its contracted employees who had been infected. Furthermore, they stated their protection went as far to cover detainees who were no longer in jail because they were hospitalized.

Joseph Shin, who is an assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, a founding member of the Cornell Center for Health Equity, and past medical director for the Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights, said ICE is contradicting orders by the Centers for Disease Control's social distancing guidelines.

"ICE directly contradicts [CDC's] guidance in several ways, including, most critically, that ICE officials describe cohorting as the planned response to a known COVID-19 exposure, not a practice of last resort," Shin said in a sworn statement.

Shin said ICE should have implemented better planning procedures for pandemic situations, and that cracks in the system led to the CDC's lack of preparation of Shin mentions ICE's lack of planning, saying the agency should place detainees in a way that each "should be assigned their own housing space and bathroom," per CDC guidelines.

"In these settings, hundreds, and potentially thousands of people will become infected, and many will die," Shin said.

A prisoner staring out of a window down one of the corridors. Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images

Liana J. Castano, the acting director in charge of the Krome facility, last week said more than 230 detainees who had been detained in the same area were all exposed to someone who had been exposed to coronavirus.

The report says Castano indicated she has healthcare staffers who are specialized in both medical and mental care, and that all detainees have their temperature taken before entering the facility in an effort to narrow potential coronavirus patients.

Detainees are also asked if they have visited any of the COVID-19 hotspots around the world, which would be Miami or South Florida, New York City, the northeastern states in general, New Orleans or any other metropolitan areas that may be warming to become the next hot spots.

Francisco Fuentes, a Honduran national at Krome, told The Herald that he had not felt well for several days, and that he still hadn't been administered a coronavirus test.

"I'm in so much pain, I barely have breath in my chest and my throat hurt," Fuentes told The Herald. "I'm sorry I'm crying but my bones and my body aches, I feel faint and my fever is burning. Please help me."

Pain from a pandemic is not automatic dismal from the penal system, especially Florida detainees, who say the elderly, or critically dying, within the system get tested first.

"The only way someone will get tested is if they're over 65 or basically dying," an ICE prosecutor said.

"I was taken to the hospital on Thursday and tested for coronavirus," a detainee said in The Herald. "The nurse told me my test was the one that gave results within 24 hours. It's been almost five days and I still haven't been told anything about my health."

That detainee has not only placed in isolation, but their family or friends cannot deposit funds into their commissary account, as their account has been locked because of the pandemic.

All the while, centers have been closed to visitors because of the pandemic.

Bud Conlin, who is the director of Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees, a Krome visitation program, said detainees depend on outside support.

"So how is someone supposed to deposit money if they only accept cash and you can't physically go deposit the funds?" Conlin said. "The fact that this person is being denied the opportunity to speak with friends, family, and counsel is deeply disturbing."