Complaint filed with Inspector General as COVID-19 cases spike at PI Detention Center

Cars exit the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas. A complaint has been filed against the facility with the Inspector General. Creative Common photo.

By Gaige Davila
editor@portisabelsouthpadre.com

A representative from Angry Tias and Abuelas of the RGV has filed a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for a detainee with severe diabetes at Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC), fearing they are at risk of contracting COVID-19. 

This week, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility’s positive COVID-19 case count spiked. 

PIDC now has 26 confirmed cases of COVID-19, as of June 11. On Monday, June 8, the facility had 8 confirmed COVID-19 cases.  Of the 26 detainees, 23 are being monitored or are in medical isolation as active cases, as of June 10, according to ICE’s website.  

Regarding the potential exposure to COVID-19, the complaint asks Inspector General Joseph Cuffari to issue the detainee’s release from the PIDC; investigate the PIDC’s compliance with Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines regarding COVID-19; and to investigate and remedy racial bias against African asylum seekers in PIDC release practices. 

The detainee, Steven, a 36-year-old pastor from Uganda, has been detained at the PIDC for a year and a half. Steven is a pastor attempting to escape political persecution from the Ugandan government, after attempting to organize “human rights programs,” according to the complaint. Jennifer Harbury, a member of Angry Tias and Abuelas who filed the complaint, writes that Steven was tortured in Uganda, having two fingers amputated and was burned via melting plastic dripped onto his legs. Steven fled Uganda in 2018. 

In the complaint, Harbury says Steven has been routinely denied asylum since presenting himself to the U.S. Port of Entry in Matamoros, Mexico, in December 2018. Harbury also writes that Steven has been denied adequate medical care and nutrition for his diabetes, causing him to lose his vision and develop boils on his face and genitals. 

Harbury writes that the conditions at the PIDC, along with staff’s refusal to comply with CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19, put Steven’s life at risk, including not removing him from spaces with other detainees.

In response to the complaint filed by Harbury, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent this response to the PRESS:

As a matter of policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not comment on pending OIG complaints However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement with or stipulation to any of the allegations.”

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