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COVID Crisis in Ohio Immigration Jail

“Human Lives Must Be Worth More Than a Federal Contract”

Mt. Gilead, OH – Yesterday, a federal Judge in the Southern District of Ohio ordered the release of three men in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, who are at high risk for serious illness or death if they contract coronavirus. This is the result of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Ohio on Friday, and follows the release of other immigrants in a related case in the Northern District.

Two of the men are clients of the Law Office of Nazly Mamedova, a Cincinnati-based immigration law firm. “My clients have compromised immune systems and are at high risk to contract the virus, but until this lawsuit, ICE refused to release them. I am so happy that, with the help of the ACLU of Ohio and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, we secured their release. I will continue to fight my clients’ cases in immigration proceedings without them having to be at risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Nazly Mamedova.

“It’s a beautiful day when families are reunited,” said Lynn Tramonte, Director of the Ohio Immigrant Alliance. “Seeing smiling faces behind protective masks reminds us what matters: health, family, and recognizing our common humanity. We are deeply grateful to the ACLU of Ohio for having the backs of Ohio’s immigrant families. We will keep fighting until everyone has a chance to return home and protect themselves from this deadly virus.”

The work to free immigrants and others from incarceration and exposure to COVID-19 continues urgently. An outbreak in the Morrow County Jail remains unacknowledged by Sheriff Hinton, despite reporter inquiries. At least sixteen of the seventy-four men currently incarcerated in Morrow have been moved to the sick pod. Many tested positive for COVID-19, but others are showing symptoms. They are not being given Tylenol to ease their pain, and consistent access to soap remains a problem.

“Sheriff Hinton needs to stop hiding from the media and address these problems,” said Tramonte. “Inmates need free soap, COVID-19 tests, and Tylenol. No new people should be brought into the facility or deported, to avoid spreading the virus. Finally, there must be the mass release of individuals to go home and quarantine. 

“The jail can end its ICE contract if it wants. This is about money, plain and simple, since detaining immigrants is a booming business for Morrow County. But human lives must be worth more than a federal contract,” Tramonte concluded. 

A forthcoming article in the Journal of Urban Health 2020 predicts that, barring dramatic decarceration, between 72-100% of ICE detainees could be infected with COVID-19 within 90 days, and such outbreaks would overwhelm local hospital systems. The researchers conclude:

The public health implications of this study are critical. They suggest that decisive action on the part of ICE will not only reduce morbidity and mortality outcomes in its population of detained immigrants, but minimize negative health outcomes in the communities that support ICE’s detention facilities with health care resources. If hesitation prevails instead, and more limited measures on the part of ICE prove ineffective, then the successful social distancing strategies implemented in a community may be undone by the large number of detainee infectious disease cases that its hospitals must care for. 

In a new report, Data for Progress and the Justice Collaborative Institute point out that jails in rural areas of the United States are experiencing unique challenges in combating COVID-19:

Perhaps most alarming, rural jails are frequently located in counties that lack hospital capacity to handle the coronavirus pandemic…. These jails are unsafe for detainees and staff, violence is frequent, and there are often few resources for medical and mental health care. Rural jails also tend to hold more detainees for ICE and the U.S. Marshal Service, putting those people at risk and increasing transmission as people are transferred between facilities.

Follow the Ohio Immigrant Alliance on Twitter @tramontela

www.ohioimmigrant.org

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