Lawsuit: Migrants were forced to clean Arizona ICE facility with high COVID-19 infections

Lawsuit: Migrants were forced to clean Arizona ICE facility with high COVID-19 infections

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Originally published by The Hill

Migrants seeking asylum were forced to clean the Arizona Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center where they were being held as they were fed rotten food and denied protection from the coronavirus, a federal lawsuit filed Monday alleges.

The La Palma Correctional Center just outside of Phoenix has had some of the highest rates of infection, with more than 70 people detained there having tested positive for coronavirus last week, according to the Arizona Republic. 

Two of the migrants were allegedly asked to clean the trash from the infirmary's office, where sick migrants were treated. One said they were forced to clean feces from a cell without gloves.

In addition to the lack of anti-coronavirus measures, migrants alleged they were denied basic hygiene like daily showers and toilet paper.

Migrants who protested the conditions were punished with verbal threats and indefinite lock-ins, the lawsuit alleges. In one instance migrants were "sent to the hole," or solitary confinement, for refusing to work in the kitchen out of fear of the coronavirus.

The kitchen eventually closed in May and the migrants were fed pre-packaged sandwiches with rotted ham and bread.

The attorneys for the 13 migrants at La Palma and nearby Eloy Detention Center told MSNBC the facilities are "tinderboxes on the verge of explosion."

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Arizona, was spearheaded by the Arizona-based Florence Project, the American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm Perkins Coie.

"Our clients have told us over and over again it's impossible to practice social distancing in detention," Laura Belous, an advocacy attorney with the Florence Project, told MSNBC. "It's impossible to maintain that six feet of distance when the telephone you're sitting on to talk to your lawyer is one to three feet from the other guy on the phone. When you're in communal showers. When 40 to 50 guys are touching the same door. That disease is going to spread like wildfire. And the fact is, it has."

An ICE official told The Hill the agency does not comment on pending litigation, but said work assignments at the agency's facilities are paid and voluntary.

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