Immigrants beg to be released amid the coronavirus pandemic

APR 24, 2020 | 11:18 AM

Ismael Reyes Otero is a Cuban incarcerated in the Broward Transitional Center detention center and one of the thousands of immigrants who, along with their families, are fighting to be released amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Asthmatic and epileptic and without a criminal record, Reyes and his wife fear for his life.

“I feel very sad and worried. First that a year ago we were separated and then they denied him asylum despite having presented evidence and now I am concerned about the pandemic because if it is spread, he will not survive, he will not bear the disease, “said Daniela Borrell, wife of Reyes Otero, who lives in Kentucky.

“My daughter asks every day when her dad is going to come. She has even stopped eating, “says Borrell.

Reyes was in the Broward Transitional Center (BTC) a month ago and has been detained more than a year ago, since May 18, 2019, when he tried to cross the border through El Puente de las Américas, through El Paso, Texas, with his wife and daughter Daniela, 4 years old at the time.

“Due to his asthma history, Mr. Reyes Otero is more vulnerable to COVID-19 and, due to his vulnerability, his family ties and the lack of a criminal record, we seek his release so that he can take refuge safely in his home. like the rest of us can do, ”said Lisa Lehner, an attorney for Americans for Immigration Justice, who represents Reyes.

“We are very concerned about the arrest of vulnerable people like Mr. Reyes Otero due to the incapacity of the detainees at BTC at a social distance and maintaining the necessary hygiene to avoid contracting and spreading the virus,” he said.
Borrell shared with El Sentinel a video of Reyes Otero, from BTC, where he complained about the recruitment conditions in BTC.

Ismael Reyes Otero chatting with his wife Dailin Borrell by video from the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach. Reyes Otero fears for his life if he contracts the coronavirus. (COURTESY)
According to what Reyes relates in the video, in the BTC there are people in quarantine; not all workers wear gloves and a mask (they only use one or the other); They don’t have a chance to bathe every day and new people are constantly coming in.

Thousands of immigrants across the United States with chronic illnesses are letting their fear be known as there are people infected with coronavirus in many detention centers. And at the national level, different immigrant advocacy groups have organized to demand that the authorities release them from these centers, where there are usually no people with criminal records. Many have been grouped under the hashtag #FreeThemAll on networks.

“The attorney general ordered the Bureau of Prisons to prioritize the early release of some prisoners from federal correctional institutions in Louisiana, Connecticut and Ohio. Detainees like Mr. Reyes Otero are in civil, not criminal, detention, and they should also be released to take refuge in their homes, “said the lawyer.

“Courts across the US are asking ICE to release detainees to reduce the detainee population and we hope that ICE will follow these decisions very soon,” said attorney Lehner.

As of Monday, Florida had more than 32,138 coronavirus cases, according to the state Department of Health. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties together have the highest concentration of cases in Florida.

Overall in Florida, 29,648 people have tested positive for the virus, according to the Department of Health.

‘Call for help’

María Bilbao, organizer of United We Dream and collaborator of the Miramar Circle of Protection, says that the number of complaints they receive is increasing. Bilbao has organized the relatives of the detainees in a WhatsApp group to share what they live.

“Abuse is the main complaint that I am receiving. The fear they have. They are asking for help. They say that social distance is not respected, that they do not have soap. That they are all in one place ”, says Bilbao. On the United We Dream Twitter page are videos of detainees calling for help.

“They are asking that they not be allowed to die there. They all have families who are waiting for them, they have been detained for more than a year and they want to pass this [pandemic] at home. ”

United We Dream has organized a petition on to demand that immigration authorities stop all immigration law enforcement activities, raids and the release of detainees.

According to ICE, “Since the onset of reports of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), ICE epidemiologists have been tracking the outbreak, updating infection prevention and control protocols, and guiding ICE staff for testing. and the management of possible exposures between detainees ”.

ICE indicates that, until April 19, it has

administered 407 tests for COVID-19, but does not specify results.

However, the Miami Herald said it had obtained figures from an ICE official, who said this week that 425 of its 32,309 detainees have been screened for the coronavirus. “ICE numbers reveal that only 1.32% of their detainees have been screened. Of those 425 tests, the agency says on its website that 253 people tested positive as of Wednesday, meaning that 59.5% of people who tested were found to have the virus, according to a report by the Miami Herald.

ICE recently reported releasing nearly 700 detainees after evaluating their “immigration history, criminal history, potential threat to public safety, risk of flight, and national security concerns.”

Additionally, he said “that the ICE detainee population has decreased by more than 4,000 people since March 1, 2020 with a decrease of more than 60 percent in arrests compared to this time last year.”

In fact, some have been released, although immigrant advocates allege that the number is unknown and insufficient.

“I am glad that I went out… because of all my medical condition, because I was married to an American citizen, they let me out. I was afraid of many things that were happening like the flow of people being asthmatic …, ”said Venezuelan Rosmary Freites released in early April from the BTC in Pompano Beach. She currently lives in Tampa with her husband and stepchildren waiting for her case to be resolved.

Freites, who keeps in touch with other detainees, says they have not released anyone she knows again.

The Miami Krome detention center quarantined 238 immigration detainees after being exposed to the coronavirus, the head of the South Miami-Dade facility told a federal judge on Wednesday, according to a recent report by the Miami Herald.

In April 2019, Florida had the sixth largest population of ICE detainees in the U.S., according to the University of Syracuse’s Center for Information and Access to Transactional Records.

Although immigrants are detained for civil offenses, the conditions of detention are identical to those in prisons where criminal sentences are served.

“These centers are prisons where people face hostile and even dangerous conditions,” says the Southern Poverty Law Center.

“There is a great lack of transparency. In the end, the immigration issue is a business. They continue to charge $ 400 per person inside. That is all that interests them ”, says Bilbao.

From left to right Dailin Borrell, Daniela Borrell and Ismael Reyes Otero, who is incarcerated in the Broward Transitional Center (BTC) Detention Center in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. to right Dailin Borrell, Daniela Borrell and Ismael Reyes Otero, who is incarcerated in the Broward Transitional Center (BTC) Detention Center amid the coronavirus pandemic. (COURTESY / Dailin Borrell)
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Yvonne H. Valdez

Editor The Sentinel South Florida