Women detained at US immigration facilities in Louisiana have released videos protesting their conditions over fears of a coronavirus outbreak.
The videos, one of which was sent to The Intercept over the facility’s video visitation phone, shows the women holding up signs to raise the alarm about the risk of coronavirus spreading in the jails.
At the South Louisiana ICE Processing Centre, women said a fellow inmate fell ill and they were worried that the virus could spread among them. In another video, the women held up signs saying: “Help us. We are afraid of Covid-19.”
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At least 13 detainees and seven ICE detention centre employees have tested positive for the virus across the country, according to the agency, although the true figure could be much higher. ICE has come under pressure in recent weeks to reduce the number of prisoners in its jails to stop the spread of Covid-19.
Some women at the Louisiana facility are now asking to be released on humanitarian grounds.
“Give us an opportunity to be with our families. We’re mothers. Don’t let us die like this, as if we were animals,” Ana, a 46-year-old Dominican immigrant, told CBS News by phone from the facility.
A few days earlier, guards reportedly used pepper spray to disperse a group of women as they protested against the poor conditions and lack of protection, according to CBS.
The for-profit jail in the town of LaSalle is owned by GEO Group and holds more than 400 women. Many of them are seeking asylum in the US.
Women at the same facility told The Intercept a few days earlier that they were concerned that they had become exposed to the virus after a cook fell ill.
“The guards come in from outside and wear no masks,” said Ranzola Lamas, one of the detainees. “I am having nightmares. We feel almost forgotten.”
She added that social distancing at the facility was impossible because they were “living on top of each other.”
Across the US, local authorities are releasing prisoners from jail early in order to protect them from contracting the coronavirus.
Last month, Philadelphia’s district attorney Larry Krasner said his office would seek to release most people charged with nonviolent offences without them having to post bail.
According to the Philadelphia Enquirer, Mr Krasner also urged police to “exercise discretion in charging to avoid jail overcrowding, particularly given fears that crowded jails will be unable to separate prisoners as needed to stop the spread of the virus.”
ICE has been under pressure to do the same. Last week, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ordered a local detention centre to release 11 detainees with underlying conditions, but ICE has resisted introducing any nationwide policy.
ICE currently detains around 35,000 immigrants nationwide in more than 200 facilities.
More than 580 people have died from the coronavirus in Louisiana alone, and there have been some 16,000 confirmed cases.