Louisiana Detention Facility Mistreats Sick Immigrants as COVID-19 Spreads

A Richwood, Louisiana, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility, run by LaSalle Corrections, has seen a rash of Covid-19 cases. LaSalle Corrections is a privately-owned company that has businesses in Texas and Georgia, as well as in Louisiana.  According to whistleblowers, the Covid-19 outbreak has been handled with lies, deceit, and apathy that goes all the way to the warden. 

The Government Accountability Project is an organization whose goal is to empower whistleblowers and to hold corporations and government accountable. According to a recent letter submitted to Congress by GAP, ICE has used questionable, and in some cases, illegal methods of handling detainees they normally wouldn’t be able to deport or transfer. One of the rules when deporting a detainee, is that they cannot be sick or have a temperature above 99 degrees. The letter states however, “Although ICE has a policy to screen deportees for temperature checks, a whistleblower reports that the temperature gauges used were inaccurate and that LaSalle staff were ordered to turn on the air conditioning to maximum to ‘freeze them out’ so the detainees will not be refused for deportations.”

This was done on detainees who had a temperature up to 102 degrees. But thanks to “freezing them out” the external forehead thermometers would read it at 98.6 degrees. No internal temperatures were taken.

Other illegal practices, according to whistle blowers, included lumping sick people together, with different illnesses: “…COVID-19 detainees have also been improperly housed in the same building assigned to detainees suffering from tuberculosis.” Whistleblowers claim, “We have been informed that while COVID-19 detainees were quarantined in a separate building in Richwood, detainees with tuberculosis were placed in the same setting (some had been misdiagnosed as COVID-19), creating a potential disease bomb where detainees could potentially contract two extremely dangerous diseases.”

At this point the situation at Richwood appears to be dire, with whistleblowers stating that they “…currently believe at least 15 officers and 72 detainees are or have been sick with COVID-19. Two officers died in April.” Those guards were Carl Lenard, and Stanton Johnson, each of whom tested positive during the course of their employment at the facility. Continuing, “Detainees are or have been on ventilators. LaSalle management has not disclosed or acknowledged the deaths. As a result, morale has and is suffering, and staff fear they are at risk of contracting COVID-19.”

Even though the warden was informed of poor conditions, little was done: “According to a whistleblower, the dorms were only sanitized once a day ‘if they had time,’ though dorms were required to be cleaned every three hours or four times per shift. Concerns were raised to Warden DeBellevue about the lack of cleaning of the common areas; there was no response from the Warden. A week later the safety officer issued a cleaning schedule, but reported to one of the whistleblowers that he couldn’t get the officers or the trustees to clean after implementing the schedule.”

It should be noted that those being held in ICE Detention centers are being held for a civil offense, not a criminal one. With permission, ICE can release every person in their custody and refrain from arresting anyone until the pandemic is better under control. With detention facility health experts Drs. Scott Allen and Josiah “Jody” Rich writing, “Populations must drop to create space for distancing and separation. Because all those in immigration detention are civil, not criminal, detainees, and because ICE has complete discretion to control the size of that population, detention is associated with greater risk of harm due to outbreak and spread of the virus within the facility and to the community, the detention of civil detainees who represent low to no risk of criminality simply cannot be justified.”

Information used in this article comes from the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a group that protects corporate and government whistleblowers. For more information, click here. https://whistleblower.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/071020-letter-to-Congress-from-GovAcctProj-re-whistleblowers-ICE-Detention-COVID-FINAL-Submitted.pdf

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