RELEASE: Data on the Coronavirus Outbreak in Immigration Detention Offer More Questions than Answers

Washington, D.C. — Public health responses to a pandemic must be informed by reliable data, yet accurate statistics about the prevalence of COVID-19 in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigration detention facilities are hard to find and piecemeal at best. This is the main finding of a new column published today by the Center for American Progress, which also highlights the federal government’s ongoing failure to protect the health and safety of detained people, facility staff and their family members, and communities at large because of ICE’s lack of transparency when sharing its numbers on testing in detention centers.

The column summarizes ICE’s daily COVID-19 testing data, and with a 14-day positive test rate of 57 percent, shows just how far ICE is from the generally accepted testing guidelines. It details how erratic the data reporting is and reveals serious flaws, such as reporting only the number of positive tests and total tests administered, instead of the number of positive, negative, and pending tests needed to understand how the picture changes from day to day.

After analyzing the data, the authors found several serious flaws, as ICE presents data as positive tests and total tests, instead of reporting the standard positive, negative, and pending tests. As such, it is impossible to construct a reliable daily positive rate. Further driving home this point, the number of daily positive tests exceeded the number of tests administered several times from April 30 to June 4.

Even more questions remain unanswered from interpreting ICE’s data for each facility:

  • How many tests have been performed in each ICE facility, and how many people are detained at facilities where few or no cases have been confirmed?
  • Are there ICE facilities holding detainees where no tests have been administered?
  • What is the positive test rate per detention facility?
  • Are there ICE facilities with an exceedingly high test rate, indicating either a poor testing strategy or a hidden epidemic?

“Recently, ICE has been finally disclosing piecemeal data regarding the pandemic inside its detention facilities, but this is only the first of many steps,” says Tom Jawetz, vice president of Immigration Policy at CAP and co-author of this column. “ICE needs to do far more to improve how it provides information to the public and to ensure that it is provided in a timely manner, without gaps, and including the appropriate level of detail. It is critical to increase transparency to help manage this public health crisis.”

“Without additional clarity from ICE, there’s no way to understand the full picture surrounding COVID-19 in detention centers. What’s more, the realities on the ground are likely to vary widely from one detention facility to another, and advocates are left in the dark,” says Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, associate director for research on the Immigration Policy team at CAP and co-author of the column.

Read the column: “Data on the Coronavirus Outbreak in Immigration Detention Offer More Questions than Answers” by Tom Jawetz and Nicole Prchal Svajlenka

Related resources:

Federal Immigration Officials Must Take Immediate Action To Prevent Further Coronavirus Outbreaks at Detention Facilities” by Sofia Carratala and Tom Jawetz
Federal Immigration Officials Can Help Protect Public Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic” by Tom Jawetz and Ed Chung
Trump and Governors Should Use Commutations To Combat the Spread of Coronavirus” by Ed Chung and Lea Hunter
How Immigrants Are Being Kept Out of the Coronavirus Recovery” by Stephanie Griffith (Washington Monthly)

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at .

To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, please visit our coronavirus resource page.