CHAPARRAL, New Mexico -- A group made up of migrant advocates, city, county and state leaders, as well as the Catholic Church has made a plea for the release of migrants detained in federal facilities in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
ABC-7 spoke to 57-year-old Juan Villa Rodriguez, who was being held at the Otero Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility. He was there for five months before being released.
Like others inside the facility, he was deathly afraid of contracting Covid-19 because, he says, he and other detainees have no protection or social distancing.
“You have to be afraid, because its a person’s life, right?" asked Rodriguez, who is waiting to depart for Florida - where he will be reunited with his family while he waits for his asylum status.
He spent the last five months detained inside the Otero ICE facility, where he says people are packed into cells, sometimes as many as 40 per cell. His cell was Charlie 3.
He spoke to ABC-7 wearing a surgical mask he was given by Annunciation House volunteers. He says only federal employees at the detention facility wear Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
Rodriguez’s fears intensified after he says a Guatemalan boy inside Charlie 3 came down with a high fever and his conditioned worsened.
“The boy sat down on a bench, then went into a convulsion,” said Rodriguez.
He later learned the boy contracted Covid-19. The group, all 40 of them, were placed in quarantine. Rodriguez showered, but only with water.
“There was no soap to bathe. What they gave us as small shampoo containers. Then they ran out of shampoo. In other words, there was no shampoo to bathe. Until now, I have not had any symptoms,” Rodriguez told ABC-7.
Rodriguez has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and allergies, and fears he is in a high risk category to contract Covid-19.
"At no point in time have they given us any protection. Neither during quarantine, without quarantine, they have never given us any protection. I started wearing this now right here,” he said.
Rodriguez is referring to one of Annunciation House facilities, where he will stay until he catches a flight to Miami to reunite with his family, while waiting for his asylum status.
Through the mask he is wearing, he is breathing a sigh of relief, but worries someone could bring the potentially deadly virus inside an ICE facility.
”I say that at any moment, yes there will be one, of course there will be one. Because imagine, the same officials leave here and go home, then they return here,” said the Cuban immigrant.
Which is why state Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso, the El Paso Diocese of the Catholic Church and other groups are asking ICE to release non-violent migrants, in an attempt to prevent an outbreak which, they fear, could breach ICE facility walls.
“They operate in our community. They hold the key to whether or not this virus is gonna explode in our detention facilities. And therefore into our communities,” Sen. Rodriguez said.
ABC-7 reached out to ICE and a spokesperson said they were referring all interview requests regarding this issue to White House and Department of Homeland Security officials.
As for some of the issues raised by Juan Villa Rodriguez, that spokesperson directed ABC-7 to an ICE website and a link to all virus related questions: https://www.ice.gov/coronavirus