We are writing to express our grave concern about the ongoing detention of numerous asylum seekers in the ICE Port Isabel Detention Center, Los Fresnos, Texas.

The great majority of these persons have never committed a crime. Moreover, they have families with legal status here in the United States who are eager to take them in while their immigration cases are processed. Prior to this administration, release of these migrants to their families would have been routine.

These asylum seekers are now in danger of contracting the Corona Virus, or COVID-19, and suffering severe illness and even death. They must be released to family and friends forthwith. Keeping them in long term, unjustified detention under these conditions is the moral equivalent of locking them into a burning building.

Hygienic conditions and medical care at this facility are shocking even during the best of times. The conditions are now unconscionable. The asylum seekers do not receive soap, only small packets of shampoo in the morning. Soap they must purchase on their own through the commissary if they can. 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 men also eat in their dorms, with food workers bringing in the food trays, with gloved hands but no masks. There are four toilet bowls in each dorm, standing out in the open without any screens. These are cleaned in the morning and evening, but no cleaning materials are available in between. These conditions fly in the face of the precautions we are all required to respect. Many of the detainees have serious health problems. It is a matter of time until the virus strikes, and the results will be devastating.

We know that the detainees have brought these concerns to the facility’s officers, but to no avail. The detainees also initiated a hunger strike on Monday, March 30, 2020. We understand that there is a grave risk of retaliation and intimidation should it continue.

We demand that all migrants in the Port Isabel Detention Center be immediately released to their friends and family unless they have a criminal record clearly indicating a danger to society.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by members of the Angry Tias and Abuelas, an advocacy group based in the Rio Grande Valley that helps migrants and asylum seekers.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus

Mario Munoz writes: 

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Recently, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus held a conference call with reporters to highlight the danger of migrants catching COVID-19 in detention facilities.

The CHC called on ICE to release the migrants, pointing out that most of those locked up are not criminals or a danger to society.

Two members of Congress from Texas were on the conference call – Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and Sylvia Garcia of Houston.

Asked if they had heard about claims that an outbreak of the coronavirus had occurred at the CE Port Isabel Detention Center, in Port Isabel, Texas, and that some migrants may have gone on a hunger strike, Castro and Garcia said they had not. “Thanks for the heads up,” Garcia said. “We will look into this,” said Castro, who chairs the CHC.

In the attached podcast, CHC members Castro, Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York give their views on releasing migrants and asylum seekers from ICE detention centers.