Activists Call for Health Measures to Prevent Coronavirus at Immigrant Jails

As the world responds to the COVID-19 outbreak, we look at how the Trump administration’s immigration policies may put everyone at risk. We go to Seattle, Washington, not far from the Life Care Center in the suburb of Kirkland, which was the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak. In nearby Tacoma, Washington, our guest says she saw posters in English only when she went to visit immigrants held in the Northwest Detention Center, which is run by private prison company GEO Group. We speak with Maru Mora Villalpando, an activist and undocumented immigrant with the groups La Resistencia and Mijente, who issued a call for public health inspections of the Northwest Detention Center, due to the danger of coronavirus within the facility, along with other demands for how ICE should respond to the epidemic.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, as the world responds to the coronavirus outbreak, we look at how the Trump administration’s immigration policies may put everyone at risk. For more, we go to Seattle, Washington, not far from the C [sic] Life Care Center in the suburb of Kirkland, which was the epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak.

AMY GOODMAN: In nearby Tacoma, Washington, our next guest says she saw posters in English only when she went to visit immigrants held in the Northwest Detention Center, which is run by the private prison company GEO Group. Joining us on the phone is Maru Mora-Villalpando, an activist and undocumented immigrant with the group La Resistencia and Mijente. Last week they issued a call for public health inspections of the Northwest Detention Center due to the danger of coronavirus inside the facility along with other demands for how ICE should respond to the epidemic. Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Maru. Tell us what you’re demanding right now.

MARU MORAVILLALPANDO: Good morning, Amy and Juan. We are asking, first of all, the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to ensure that there’s some sort of inquiry at least on how this is being treated. We know because of past incidents and records that outbreaks have happened in this detention center. In the past three years, we’ve seen a lot of varicella and mumps outbreaks happening. We want to know what is being done beyond placing flyers in English about washing hands and covering coughs. We are also asking to find out what are the protocols for workers. What’s happening in case that workers do end up being ill? What will be happening then to people detained?

Let me remind your audience that the building here in the Seattle area of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service has been in lockdown or actually shut down for two weeks since March 5th because of an ICE employee that was exposed to the virus, and the USCIS office decided to shut down that building. Now, that building is the building where both ICE officers and people detained at NWDC could come in and out. So how do we know that people that have been to this building have not been exposed?

We are asking ICE to stop transfers right now. We want a moratorium on transferring to NWDC or really anywhere in the nation because we are not certain that people are safe under ICE custody, not even yet with the trace [sp] of this outbreak.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about your own experience in Seattle, Washington state, which has been an epicenter of the virus here in the U.S.?

MARU MORAVILLALPANDO: Well, we are obviously looking at different ways to engage with each other. We, even La Resistencia, we had an action just last Saturday, and we had to come up with different protocols. We decided to go ahead with this action because it is an outdoor activity, but a lot of activities have been canceled. We know that the state has done a really good job of trying to assure to the public that something is being done, since we definitely cannot rely on the federal government. But yet we have not seen anything in regards to people in prisons and detained.

I personally don’t have insurance, so I’m still trying to figure out if anything happens to me or communities like me that are not insured, what is going to happen. Are we going to have access to medical care? I’m also a consultant myself—I don’t have paid sick leave—so what is going to happen to people like us?

AMY GOODMAN: And are you concerned about guards coming in with the virus, with coronavirus?

MARU MORAVILLALPANDO: Yes, we’re definitely concerned. We know there’s more people being found that have coronavirus. It is just a matter of when. Even the governor agreed that this is not if; it’s a matter of when. And we really worry about people in detention. We know that people in detention are already at risk of even dying. Just Sunday, another person has died under ICE custody. And then imagine if this coronavirus actually goes into the detention center. We’re really worried about the hundreds of people that are in there.
And there’s more coming. Just Sunday, March 5th—

AMY GOODMAN: Maru, we’re going to have to leave it there but we will continue to cover this ever important issue. Maru Mora-Villalpando, activist and undocumented immigrant with La Resistencia and Mijente. And that does it for our broadcast. I am Amy Goodman with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.