Oversight Democrats question DHS on plan for possible coronavirus outbreak in detention facilities

Mar 11, 2020
In The News

House Democrats are asking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for its contingency plans for a possible coronavirus outbreak in migrant detention facilities. 

Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee questioned acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on the department’s plan to mitigate such an outbreak, adding that detained migrants could be at an increased risk due to reported overcrowding. 

“DHS detention facilities may be especially vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus because of the Administration’s excessive use of detention,” Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) wrote in a letter to Wolf on Wednesday. 

“This Administration’s immigration policies have grown the daily detainee population by more than 40%, resulting in severe overcrowding at detention facilities. Overcrowding creates dangerous conditions that increase the likelihood that disease will spread and make it more difficult to effectively quarantine contagious detainees,” the Democrats added. 

The lawmakers said other diseases have spread in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, including mumps, chicken pox and the flu. The committee wrote to the department in December about how it was handling the flu. 

“Your continued failure to respond to that letter raises further concerns about the department’s ability to address new public health issues in its facilities,” Maloney and Raskin wrote. 

A DHS official was not immediately available for comment. 

Maloney and Raskin also pushed the department to “make clear” that the Trump administration’s public charge rule, which could make immigration more difficult for those would need government assistance, will not apply to anyone relying on public benefits to seek testing or treatment for COVID-19. 

The rule, which critics warn could discourage immigrants from seeking medical attention, poses a “serious threat” to the health of American’s and the further spread of the virus, they wrote. 

The Oversight Democrats asked Wolf if migrants are being tested, and if so to detail the testing protocol. They also asked how DHS will quarantine confirmed cases of COVID-19 and what medical care they will provide to detainees confirmed with cases of COVID-19. 

Wolf has until next Wednesday to respond to the letter. 

The request for answers on DHS’s response to the coronavirus comes as it continues to spreads globally. Nearly 125,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

In the U.S., more than 1,000 cases have been confirmed, and at least 29 people have died. 

The World Health Organization officially called the outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday.