This week, we read about conditions at an ICE detention center in Louisiana, a new policy that might give aspiring citizenship a second chance, and the barriers that stand between immigrant communities and getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
An asylum-seeker reported “horrible conditions” after spending almost 50 days at Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana.
He told NBC News that there was little food, no hot water, and limited bathrooms. He also said the facility was freezing cold. Asylum-seekers also reported a severe lack of medical care, verbal abuse by staff, and the use of pepper spray on detainees who protested the conditions.
The Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative of Louisiana, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is taking action. In two letters to the Department of Homeland Security, attorneys and detainees described the inhumane conditions, violence, and mental health crises in gut-wrenching detail. This included reports of excessive force and increased use of solitary confinement.
“They make us feel bad. I thought when I got here, the attention would have been different,” an unnamed asylum seeker said. “They treated me like a dog. I felt disillusioned.”
Under the Biden administration, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reversed an unforgiving Trump era immigration policy.
The policy gave USCIS officers the power to deny cases over mistakes or missing documents with little to no warning, and in some cases, no opportunity to correct them.
In the past, when applicants made small mistakes or had missing documents, USCIS officers would give applicants a warning. This was either a Request for Evidence (RFE) or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). The applicant had a certain number of days to fix any mistakes and submit additional evidence. In 2018, the Trump administration allowed USCIS officers to deny applications without giving an RFE or NOID first. The reversal of this policy will give applicants a better opportunity to file the strongest case they can. We applaud the Biden administration’s efforts to increase access to justice for immigrants, and we hope it continues.
“We are taking action to eliminate policies that fail to promote access to the legal immigration system, and will continue to make improvements that help individuals navigate the path to citizenship,” said DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas.
Immigrants are having a difficult time getting the COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. They face unique obstacles that U.S. citizens do not, and their chances of getting vaccinated vary by their state’s requirements.
Many undocumented immigrants have attempted to get the vaccine and were denied due to not having identification. While some states allow undocumented immigrants to get vaccinated without disclosing their status, many are still unable to get a form of photo ID. Many immigrants cannot get the vaccine without an ID. This is one reason why the U.S. may fall short of President Biden’s goal to get 70% of adults vaccinated by July 4.
Immigrant communities face other unique challenges to getting the vaccine. Some are afraid that their employers will retaliate if they take time off work to get the vaccine. Some green card holders are afraid that getting vaccinated may be considered use of a public health benefit. They are afraid that it will hurt their eligibility for citizenship. Many immigrant communities are impacted by language barriers and a lack of detailed and reliable public health information in their best language. Immigrant communities are also targeted online by anti-vaccine disinformation campaigns.
At McEntee Law Group, we encourage immigrants to use reliable sources when making health decisions. Informed Immigrant is a great place to start.
“There are so many voices unheard right now who are afraid of speaking up — if only somebody can answer their question about the vaccine, they really want to get it,” said Ogbonnaya Omenka, assistant professor and public health specialist at Butler University.