News & Politics

44 Guatemalans on One Flight Deported from Texas Test Positive for Coronavirus

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer looks on during an operation in Escondido, Calif. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

The Guatemalan government says that 44 of its citizens on one deportation flight from the U.S. tested positive for the coronavirus.

The flight, which originated in Brownsville, Texas, landed April 13 in Guatemala. At the time the plane took off, ICE says they followed all the CDC guidelines relating to the pandemic.


An ICE spokesperson told CNN Thursday that “the health and welfare of detainees in ICE custody is of the highest priority to the agency. ICE closely follows (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance as a standard practice and particularly in response to the changing dynamic of this global pandemic. Currently, CDC is on the ground in Guatemala to review and validate the Covid-19 tests performed on those arriving from ICE Air flights. Once results are available, ICE will determine whether to re-evaluate current medical procedures with CDC guidance to ensure that any newly necessary practices are implemented.”

But there appears to be a gaping hole in ICE procedures.

According to its website regarding Covid-19, ICE conducts, “a visual screening consistent with current ICE policy and procedures on those detained lacking medical summary information (new apprehensions) who are delivered to the aircraft. Those detainees who are not ‘new apprehensions’ are brought to the aircraft with medical clearance.”

The guidance goes on to say, “any ICE detainee who fails to pass screening by a flight medical provider and/or is suspected of having a health-risk condition potentially contagious to other detainees, staff and/or third parties, will be denied boarding and referred to an ICE approved facility for screening.”

The “new apprehensions” are given a visual inspection and their temperatures are taken — ostensibly, to see if they’re feverish or have developed a cough. Since most people who test positive are asymptomatic, it’s very likely that many of those new apprehensions were positive for coronavirus.

There has been some concern that ICE detention centers are a hotbed of the virus, but no evidence has emerged showing that. There’s a lot less strain on immigration facilities in recent months as the numbers of people who end up in detention have plummeted. That’s partly due to the virus, but it’s mostly because of the new ICE policy of immediately deporting asylum seekers to Mexico.

I doubt whether ICE facilities practice social distancing, but fortunately, the number of reported virus cases among detainees was low — until now.

ICE says it doesn’t have to give out information on contract employees who test positive and there have been several of them. It’s likely that there’s a problem in ICE detention facilities, but without widespread testing, it’s impossible to say.

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