ELOY, Ariz. (AP) — Immigration and Customs Enforcement has reported 233 more confirmed cases of COVID-19 at one of its facilities in Arizona.
The infections are at the La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, which has so far seen a total of 356 cases. No other facility reported even close to as many cases as La Palma did on Friday, with most detention centers seeing single-digit increases.
It’s unclear how many people are detained at La Palma, but overall there are more than 21,000 people being held in ICE custody on civil immigration violations nationwide.
ICE spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe said in a statement that the agency recently expanded virus testing at La Palma, testing 1,000 detainees. Most were asymptomatic.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is firmly committed to the health, welfare and safety of detainees in our care, and this is one of the agency’s highest priorities,” Pitts O’Keefe wrote.
The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, an advocacy group that provides legal services, said the high number of infections underscores the need to release immigrants from detention.
The organization says its clients at La Palma report that large sections of the detention center are locked down and that they’re being fed cold, boxed meals three times a day.
Advocacy groups across the country have filed several lawsuits seeking to release vulnerable populations during the pandemic, and ICE has on some occasions released detainees who have health conditions that make them susceptible to getting seriously sick from the coronavirus.
The agency reported 850 new positive cases nationwide on Friday for a total of 5,300 overall cases since the pandemic began.
For most people, COVID-19 causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a few weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.