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'Living In Fear': ICE Detainees In Bristol County Release 3rd Letter Detailing Pandemic Concerns

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson during a training class conducted at Bristol County Jail and House of Correction in North Dartmouth in December 2017. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson during a training class conducted at Bristol County Jail and House of Correction in North Dartmouth in December 2017. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Detainees of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) held at the Bristol County House of Correction have released another letter outlining additional fears related to the spread of the coronavirus in the facility.

This is the third letter sent by detainees since the beginning of the outbreak in the state. It's dated March 20 and written on behalf of 47 ICE detainees in ‘Unit A' of the detention facility.

In the letter obtained by WBUR, the detainees write about concerns of overcrowding similar to their counterparts housed in 'Unit B,' saying all 47 of them eat meals at the same time in the same room where they sleep.

"We have a dining room which is not separated rather is visible from the beds. We have round plastic party tables, and when they are set up for meal time they are only separated inches from each other," the letter reads.

The letter also describes new detainees transferred into the facility:

“...we are now living in fear for our [lives] because more detainees are being brought in directly from the street everyday, without being quarantined first.”

Last week, two medical experts employed by the Department of Homeland Security sent a letter to Congress calling for the release of all ICE inmates who don’t pose danger to community.

“Reassessing the security and public health risks, and acting immediately, will save lives of not only those detained, but also detention staff and their families, and the community-at-large,” they wrote.

Ira Alkalay is an attorney based in New Bedford, who has several clients currently detained by ICE in the facility. He says they're scared.

"The surrounding community should be paying attention to this because it's the local hospitals which will be treating these individuals," Alkalay said. "These are not large hospitals, they could easily become overwhelmed within a short time.

"There's still a window and it may not be open much longer," he added.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley has called for the compassionate release of inmates and detainees in an effort to stem the spread of the virus among the detained population. Pressley has since announced that she is being tested for the coronavirus.

ICE detainees in 'Unit B' of the Bristol County House of Correction addressed a letter earlier this week to Congressmen Joseph Kennedy and Bill Keating, as well as Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren. All of them except Keating have called for the release of ICE detainees and low-level offenders held as inmates.

Jonathan Darling, the spokesperson for Bristol County Sheriff's Office, said in a statement that the sheriff has no jurisdiction to release either ICE detainees or county inmates.

In an email, Darling added that claims that people are being transferred into the facility without an initial health screening are “absurd.”

“We are still receiving ICE detainees," he wrote. "All inmates and detainees are screened by a health care professional before being accepted into custody. If any of them have a fever or are showing symptoms linked to the coronavirus, such as cough, sore throat, etc., they are being turned away and must be cleared by a doctor before returning and being accepted into custody.”

Darling said the facility has not turned away any new ICE detainees transferred to the facility since the coronavirus fears surfaced.

Federal immigration officials have declined to comment.

This article was originally published on March 26, 2020.

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Shannon Dooling is an immigration reporter at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.

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