Immigration Detention and COVID-19 Timeline: Administration Fails to Heed Warnings, Worsens Spread of Coronavirus


  • 25: Dr. Allen & Dr. Rich, detention medical experts and consultants to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), warn the agency of public health risks of ICE detention facilities


  • 13: Dr. Allen & Dr. Rich again express concerns to DHS about ICE detention / Open letter from medical professionals to ICE urges releases to mitigate COVID-19 harms
  • 15: The immigration judges union, ICE trial attorney union, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association call for the closure of immigration courts to prevent coronavirus spread
  • 17: Human Rights First, Physicians for Human Rights, and Amnesty International USA write to DHS and ICE leadership urging release of asylum seekers and immigrants due to coronavirus threat
  • 19: A Bergen County sheriff’s officer tests positive for COVID-19; statement says no ICE detainees were exposed / First employee at ICE facility tests positive for coronavirus (Elizabeth Detention Center, Elizabeth, NJ)
  • 20: DHS medical experts/whistleblowers write to Congress, White House Task Force, urge releases from ICE detention to prevent coronavirus spread / ICE officials concede during briefing to House Committee on Oversight that ICE has “no contingency plan for coronavirus treatment if local hospitals become overwhelmed and cannot treat detainees”
  • 22: Inmates test positive for coronavirus at New Jersey jail also housing ICE detainees
  • 22: Former Acting ICE Director Jon Sandweg writes recommending release of “thousands of nonviolent, low-risk detainees currently in ICE custody,” explaining that “ICE can reduce the overcrowding of its detention centers, and thus make them safer, while also putting fewer people at risk”
  • 24: First ICE detainee tests positive for coronavirus (Bergen County Jail, Hackensack, NJ)


  • 3: Medical and human rights experts continue to call for release of ICE detainees
  • 10: Reports of guards at privately-owned Otay Mesa Detention Center denying masks to detainees if they refuse to sign a form absolving the company of liability should they become infected
  • 17 “Acting [ICE] Director Albence state[s] that ‘[their] review… has been completed…’ ICE doesn’t plan to release any other detainees to slow the spread of coronavirus.” / Public health experts continue to call for releases from ICE detention
  • 23: Judge orders population reduction in ICE detainees at Adelanto, California facility
  • 25: Guard at a private detention facility used to jail immigrants in Monroe, Louisiana dies after contracting COVID-19 (Richwood Correctional Facility, Monroe, LA)
  • 28: Second guard at Richwood Correctional Facility dies after contracting COVID-19
  • 30: Miami judge orders ICE to reduce population in three Florida detention centers to allow for social distancing (Krome Detention Center, Broward Transitional Center, Glades County Detention Center)


  • 6: First detainee dies from coronavirus (Otay Mesa Detention Center, San Diego, CA)
  • 13: Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf says “What we’re not going to do is release all of the detainees in our care.”
  • 14: Elizabeth Detention Center guard reported to have died from COVID-19 / ICE transfers 16 detainees from Krome Detention Center to Broward Transitional Center, where they test positive for COVID-19 an hour later
  • 15: Class action suit filed demanding release of all detainees at Elizabeth Detention Center due to unsafe conditions during pandemic
  • 26: ICE denies its transfer policy is contributing to spread of COVID-19
  • 27: “ICE admits to transferring detainees with COVID-19, says it can’t test everybody”
  • 28: Five percent one-day increase in positive cases in ICE detention
  • 31: ICE transfers of detainees have led to outbreaks in detention centers in five states – Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Texas


  • 1: 1,406 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 out of 2,781 tested overall (50.6%); 44 ICE employees at detention centers positive for COVID-19, 123 other ICE employees test positive
Fact Sheets

Published on June 1, 2020


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