People held in two immigration detention centers have faced sweltering heat, no water, a lack of food, and sewage problems in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, according to immigration advocates.
Families of those held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported water and power outages beginning Friday at both the Jackson Parish Correctional Center in Jonesboro, Louisiana, and the LaSalle Correctional Center in Olla, Louisiana, said Luz Lopez, a senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Immigrant Justice Project. Families say detainees in Olla have been moved to outdoor tents and told it will take weeks for the facility to be operational.
The reports of conditions are “horrible,” with some describing knee-deep sewage, Lopez said. “No electricity. No fans, no air conditioning. Sewage has backed up and is overflowing. Some folks had to remove clothing because they were suffocating,” she said.
Lara Nochomovitz, an immigration lawyer, has heard similar details from detainees in the Jackson facility. She was told that people have been relieving themselves in bags because the toilets are backed up. At least one of the women’s dorms is quarantined because of the coronavirus, meaning they are eating their meals within proximity of the washrooms, she said. Nochomovitz was told Monday that power had been restored — but not water.
Bryan Cox, a spokesman for ICE, said the reports are “not correct.”
"Louisiana ICE facilities are currently operating on a mix of grid and generator power,” Cox said in an email.
“I am told there are no water or sewer issues reported at either location,” he added.
Cox said there may be “brief interruptions” of generator power during refueling or maintenance, but that “any claim of extended absences of power would not be accurate.” He said that “extensive planning and preparation” meant facilities were equipped with backup systems that prevented “any extended absence of power or water.”
But that contradicts information from the Jackson Parish Sheriff’s Office. It confirmed a power and water outage at the Jackson Parish Correction Center on Saturday in a Facebook post. Immigrants held at the facility “decided to protest” the conditions, the sheriff’s office reported. They “damaged their dormitory in protest,” the post said. “The protest was squashed and activity is back to normal.”
The sheriff’s office said electricity was restored to the facility on Saturday, during the protest, when energy crews restored power to that surrounding area. It also said water had “been established back at the facility.”
Louisiana ICE facilities have seen a series of protests and hunger strikes since the outbreak of COVID-19. Advocates and detainees have repeatedly warned of lax cleaning protocols and the impossibility of social distancing amid a series of outbreaks of COVID-19 at detention centers. Lopez said the outages are “part of a pattern” of poor conditions and a lack of transparency from ICE officials. And she said ICE continues to reject parole requests from asylum seekers who pose no flight risk during their immigration proceedings.
ICE has defended the treatment of people held in detention centers during the pandemic.