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It took months of planning for José Hernandez’s parents to visit him in immigration detention.
The drive took four hours and neither of his parents could drive. His father also needs a leave of absence from work. But the biggest uncertainty is whether the detention center will allow visitors.
“The inconsistency with visitation guidelines made it more difficult for my parents to see me,” said Hernandez, who is currently being held at a facility in Bakersfield, Calif.
Hernandez was convicted of assault in 2018 in California. While in prison, he continued his education and completed his firefighter training, his attorney said. But when he was released in 2021, he couldn’t go home — he was taken to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mesa Verde Processing Center.
Hernandez was born in Mexico and brought to America as a child. He has a green card, but there is still the possibility of deportation.
“I just wanted a chance to see my family and give them a hug before the worst came: I had to leave the country I’ve called home for 29 years,” he told NPR.
Individuals in immigration detention have been barred from visiting relatives and friends for more than two years during the pandemic — much longer than federal prison. In May, ICE up ban, but immigrant advocates and those in detention centers argue that social visits have not been fully and consistently reinstated.
There are many reasons why people are detained in ICE facilities. Some migrants are detained by Border Patrol agents or Customs and Border Protection officers after arriving at the US border without valid documentation. Others are arrested by ICE agents, often after criminal convictions. Many are detained for more than a year while awaiting their fate in immigration court.
As for Hernandez, his felony was the type of crime that could result in even green card holders being automatically deported, according to his attorney.
As of November 14, 52 out of 113 ICE locations listed in yellow or red, which means their COVID response includes temporarily restricting in-person visits.
An ICE spokesperson told NPR that health protocols are based on a number of factors, including the number of isolation units, medical isolation rates, hospitalizations, and China’s community risk standards. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19.
Immigrant advocates argue COVID restrictions were not implemented in good faith
Individual establishments also have optional apply additional protective measures at any time to prevent the spread of COVID. But immigration advocates have raised concerns about the authority given to individual detention centers, most of which are run by private and for-profit companies and whether rulings restricting access to the visit were made in good faith.
Earlier this month, 140 immigrant advocacy organizations asked the Biden administration intervention and urges ICE facilities to provide in-person visits regardless of facility COVID status. They also said video calls to people in ICE custody would be free.
Laura Duarte Bateman, communications director for the California Immigrant Justice Partnership, told NPR: “Even without the visit, the pandemic still broke out inside the detention centers.
“We are tired of COVID being used as an excuse not to restore visitation,” she added.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 have been a concern at ICE facilities throughout the pandemic, and the agency has been criticized for a reported lack of soap, mask and Limit social contact in some detention camps.
As of November 7, almost 30,000 individuals were kept at ICE facilities, and approximately 600 of them were isolated or monitored to test positive for COVID.
According to ICE data, there have been several facilities in recent weeks that have implemented strict COVID restrictions despite reporting only one case of the virus.
Hernandez said he understands health and safety are a priority, but says that shouldn’t justify restricting visitation, which is so important for the mental and emotional health of those in need. detainees.
“We’re not in good hands,” he said. “At the same time, we don’t get to visit our loved ones, which is not right.”
ICE said it provides several other forms of communication between detainees and their loved ones, including handwritten letters and video and phone calls.
Agency policy states that virtual options should be special guaranteed when social visits are limited. But that doesn’t usually happen, says Duarte Bateman, because video calls can be expensive. Hernandez says it costs $3.15 for 15 minutes. ICE did not respond to questions from NPR about the cost of the video calls.
Duarte Bateman said the lack of access to in-person visits could also hinder immigration advocates from tracking human rights abuses. She added, people in detention centers worry that phone calls and handwritten letters are being closely monitored by ICE agents and could lead to retaliation.
Hernandez’s mother, María Hernandez, told NPR that she was initially elated when ICE lifted restrictions on social visits. But that excitement quickly dissipated when she realized the reunion would be more complicated than she anticipated.
“I want to see my son before the end of the year. I don’t know how. But I really hope that me, dad and him get together soon,” she said.