4 test positive for coronavirus at downstate ICE detention center

The Pulaski County Detention Center is one of three county jails in Illinois contracted by ICE to detain immigrants and the first to report positive cases of the coronavirus.

SHARE 4 test positive for coronavirus at downstate ICE detention center
In this July 8, 2019, file photo, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer looks on during an operation in Escondido, Calif.

The Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center is working with Sidley Austin LLP to file federal lawsuits to demand the release of medically vulnerable immigrants.

AP file

Three immigrants and a correctional officer at a downstate county jail used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Pulaski County Detention Center is one of three county jails in Illinois contracted by ICE to hold suspected undocumented immigrants. The three immigrants held at Pulaski are the first ICE detainees in Illinois to test positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.

Damon Acuff, warden at the Pulaski County jail, told the Southern Illinoisan that 130 of the 145 people held at the facility are ICE detainees.

Acuff and Pulaski County Sheriff Randy Kern could not be reached for comment.

On Friday, ICE said the men who tested positive were a 26-year-old Guatemalan, a 33-year-old Honduran and a 32-year-old Mexican.

The Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center is working with Sidley Austin LLP to file federal lawsuits to demand the release of medically vulnerable immigrants detained in Pulaski County.

There are nearly 34,000 immigrants detained by ICE across the country. Nearly two-thirds of them have never been convicted of a crime, according to a recent analysis of detainee records by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

ICE says 61 detainees and 19 detention center employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. Immigrant rights groups have warned about the potential rapid spread of the coronavirus in detention centers.

Lee Vanderlinden, an NIJC staff attorney, said they’re worried about their clients being at risk of contracting the virus at Pulaski County.

“The pods are set up where detainees are all living in an open area with bunk beds or in cells [and] share common areas where everyone eats. It’s impossible to keep six feet distance apart,” they said.

Lupe Perez, another NIJC attorney, said her client at the detention center is worried he’s defenseless against the virus.

Detainees “are not provided soap,” she said, “and they have to use the little money they have in commissary to buy soap, which means they can’t afford to talk to family.”

Earlier this week, the NIJC and Sidley Austin filed lawsuits on behalf of three people detained at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee seeking their release.

Two of those immigrants, one of whom is a 46-year-old man who’s lived in Illinois for 30 years, were released Friday. The third has a hearing scheduled over the weekend.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West sides.

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