‘Caged … For No Fault of Your Own’: Detainees Dread Covid While Awaiting Immigration Hearings

by | Dec 22, 2022 | Health

LUMPKIN, Ga. — In October, Yibran Ramirez-Cecena didn’t alert the staff at Stewart Detention Center to his cough and runny nose. Ramirez-Cecena, who had been detained at the immigration detention facility in southwestern Georgia since May, hid his symptoms, afraid he would be put in solitary confinement if he tested positive for covid-19.

“Honestly, I didn’t want to go spend 10 days by myself in a room — they call it the hole,” Ramirez-Cecena said. He is being held at the center as he waits to learn whether he will be deported to Mexico or can remain in the United States, where he has lived for more than two decades.

Shortly before Ramirez-Cecena got sick, officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the facility denied his request for a medical release. He is HIV-positive, which is on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of conditions that make a person more likely to get seriously ill from covid.

Now, heading into the third pandemic winter, he’s praying he doesn’t get covid while detained. “It is still scary,” he said.

Across the country, the chance of developing severe illness or dying from covid has fallen, a result of updated booster shots, at-home tests, and therapeutics. Most people can weigh the risks of attending gatherings or traveling. But for the roughly 30,000 people living in close quarters in the country’s network of immigration facilities, covid remains an ever-present threat.

ICE updated its pandemic guidance in November. But facilities have flouted past recommendations to use masks and protective equipment, …

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