No COVID-19 threat from ICE detainees, Henson says

MOORE HAVEN — A federal lawsuit seeking the release of all Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees at three detention centers, including Glades County’s jail here, is still pending in federal district court in Miami. The judge has ordered more information be revealed about their potential exposure to the coronavirus.

The Miami Herald reported April 6 that two ICE-contracted guards at the Krome Detention Center had tested positive for COVID-19, and all detainees who were exposed to them were then isolated as a group in their housing units at the Krome center. A third later became sick. In a statement, Akima Global Services, which runs that center, maintained that no detainees had tested positive for COVID-19 at Krome. However, ICE says on its website that as of that date, 13 detainees and seven ICE detention center employees at its 222 facilities nationwide had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Herald.

Sometimes when there is an overflow of undocumented immigrants under detention there and at the Broward Transitional Center in Plantation, run by the GEO Group, some of them are bused to the Glades County Detention Center.

The Glades County Sheriff’s Office is also a subcontractor for ICE and, like the others, holds detainees until their immigration claims can be resolved and they are either deported or released.

A recent anonymous note to the Lake Okeechobee News from a “concerned person” claimed the person witnessed two buses from Krome with 28 and 26 detainees aboard dropping them off at the GCDC on two weeknights the following week. The note, sent April 16, alleged: “The Glades County Detention Center is receiving Krome inmates and putting corrections officers and Glades County inmates at risk of getting the virus. No one is doing anything about it. Please expose what’s going on.”

‘Protocols are in place’

That’s not true at all, according to Glades County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Keith Henson. In fact, the GCSO has had an arrangement for over a dozen years.

“We’ve been in a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security for ICE detainees as well as the U.S. Marshal’s Service inmates, since the onset in 2007 of the physical plant here,” Chief Henson stated. He disputed the tipster’s claim that Krome had been in the news for a “large caseload” of COVID-19 positive detainees.

That is not exactly true, either, because anyone who came down with the virus was hospitalized and removed from the population at Krome, and isolated for at least two weeks, he said. “I’m sort of guarded on what I can disclose about the ICE population,” Chief Henson said.

But he was short and to the point about the current GCDC incarcerated population of 500.

“We have no employees nor any inmates or detainees at this facility who are currently sick. No member of our population here has been tested for the COVID virus or come up positive — the entire population — no actual tests of any of our population here or cases documented or identified here, staff or incarcerated population.”

Deputy Henson said special coronavirus procedures, as advised by federal and state health authorities, have been followed at the jail since COVID-19’s spread in the United States has become of major concern — since about St. Patrick’s Day.

Thorough screenings

“What we do is, nobody enters the facility until they’ve been physically screened by medical staff prior to entry. The ICE inmates that we do receive are going through the same kind of protocols prior to being moved from a facility to us. The ICE detainees of concern all actually have been in custody for 14 or more days prior to coming here… they’ve all been screened and cleared prior to being received here,” Chief Deputy Henson said. But he added that he and Sheriff David Hardin have a different major concern.

“We’re still taking in county inmates, you know. We make arrests on the streets. That’s the big unknown,” he said.

“I’m more worried about the unknown vs. the known. The sheriff is extremely concerned with how we manage this crisis both for staff safety as well as the population of 500 that we’re responsible for here. And every check and balance and safeguard that can be in place, is in place in these uncertain times.”

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment