At the privately operated Elizabeth Detention Center — where a medical worker tested positive for COVID-19 this week in the first confirmed case at an ICE facility — at least one dormitory of approximately 40 detainees refused meals on Friday.
“They’re not taking any measures to protect us,” said a detainee at the facility, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “They haven’t done any cleaning. We spent three days without soap.”
The detainee said that the detention facility has done little or nothing in response to the confirmed COVID-19 case. He and his fellow inmates remain housed in a single large room with bunk beds, and new detainees have continued to be brought in from the outside.
They have not been supplied with hand sanitizer or any personal protective equipment. Guards are not using gloves or masks. He and the other hunger strikers are demanding to be released — or at least that no new detainees be brought into the facility.
“There’s a lot of fear, because if they bring in an infected person, we’re all going to get infected,” said the detainee, an asylum seeker from Central America who was apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. “If anyone gets something here, then we all get it, because we all breathe the same air.”
At the Hudson County Corrections and Rehabilitation Center — a county jail with a contract to house ICE detainees — inmates began a hunger strike Wednesday, with others joining them Thursday. This follows an ongoing hunger strike at the jail in Essex County, which was first announced Tuesday.
A detainee who was released from the Hudson facility on Wednesday, who asked to be identified only as Nick, says he was placed in isolation this week and tested for COVID-19 with no explanation. He was then told his test results were negative and returned to the general population. The detainees in his dormitory had been moved from a single, open hall into individual cells, each one housing two people. Nick described the rooms as tiny, filthy, and freezing. Each room has a single toilet with no cover, which the detainees are only allowed to flush twice an hour.
The detainees are still brought into common areas once a day in groups of around 20, but are not told to exercise any precautions, Nick said. They were given one source of hand sanitizer this week, which quickly ran out.
Olisa Uzoegwu, who has been detained at the Hudson facility for 18 months, was moved into a two-person cell on Monday. He stopped eating on Wednesday.
“The cells stink. The toilets don’t flush. There’s never enough soap. They give out soap once a week. One bar of soap a week. How does that make any sense?”
“They say they are locking us in so we can be protected,” he said. “But they don’t do anything different. The cells stink. The toilets don’t flush. There’s never enough soap. They give out soap once a week. One bar of soap a week. How does that make any sense?”
Panic has spread across the facility, but personnel have failed to communicate clearly about the ongoing crisis.
“We can actually watch the news,” Nick said. “That’s how we know what’s going on, and that’s how we know we should wash our hands, try not to touch the phone, things like that. We do all these things because we watch the news, not because the facility is trying to enforce that kind of behavior.”
“When you’re in here, you get frustrated and you want to give up on everything,” said Uzoegwu. “It breaks you down. Who knows how long this is going to go on?”