McALLEN, Tx. (Border Report) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Thursday that the agency has given coronavirus tests to all migrants at the nation’s three family detention centers, two of which are located in South Texas.
ICE officials said 14 migrants have tested positive for the cornavirus, and 40 tests are still pending for detainees at the Karnes County Residential Center, which is about 50 miles southeast of San Antonio.
The agency tested a total of 278 migrants at the three family detention centers, including 154 residents at the South Texas Family Residential Center, in Dilley, Texas; 111 at the Karnes County facility, and 13 at the Berks Family Residential Center in Leesport, Pa.
“As we planned where to expand ICE’s testing capabilities, the family residential centers were identified as a priority because of the unique population we house at these facilities,” Henry Lucero, executive associate director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, said in a statement. “We take the responsibility to care for the families in our custody very seriously and we are working with all of our partners to determine how to reduce the spread of COVID-19, not only at our FRCs, but at all locations housing ICE detainees.”
The testing came after the agency reported over 700 migrants held at ICE facilities nationwide have contracted COVID-19. The agency reported that as of Tuesday, 752 of the 22,805 detainees have tested positive for coronavirus. That includes 78 migrants at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas, of which 23 cases are still active.
The El Paso Service Processing Center has had 119 migrants with COVID-19, and the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico has had 143, ICE reports. In San Diego, there have been 167 cases and one death from coronavirus at the Otay Mesa Detention Center.
The three family detention facilities are the only ICE facilities where migrant mothers and children are held together and have been the source of criticism by migrant advocates who say their health is being put at risk by living in such close confines.
Since testing at intake began at the Karnes facility, 14 individuals have tested positive, including 11 who tested positive on June 24 and three Wednesday. ICE officials said all new arrivals have been isolated to stop the potential spread of COVID-19.
“I wonder why 40 are pending,” Norma Herrera of the nonprofit RGV Equal Voice Network said when told by Border Report of the testing results. “My experience right now with the Port Isabel Detention Center is there are folks experiencing fever, body aches and coughs and they tell us that they’re not being tested. So I think there’s enough to suggest here, locally at least, that if they tested everyone there would be a surge in cases.”
ICE said it plans to continue expanding testing capabilities to other facilities across its detention network over the next few months.