This week, a message from Executive Director Jeremy Burton and Director of Synagogue Organizing Rachie Lewis:
You may have heard the disconcerting reports emerging from the Bristol County House of Corrections regarding events on Friday night, May 1st. Testimony from immigrant detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention there reports that inmates were assaulted and pepper sprayed, endangering their lives and furthering their vulnerability to COVID-19. Inmates report being told they were going to be tested for COVID-19 and instructed to pack their bags, leading them to fear that they would be thrown in solitary confinement. In this virtual press conference, you can hear the voices of people who have been detained at Bristol and were contacted by family and friends on the night of the violence.
Through our work with the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN – created by JCRC together with our partners), we have been connected with those detained or previously detained in Bristol and have heard first-hand their stories of ill treatment. Fortunately, our Commonwealth has an active congressional delegation and the MA Senate, members of whom have spoken out about the reports (and our Attorney General, who has started investigating). We add our voices to theirs by calling for an immediate and independent investigation with appropriate consequences.
We have heard Sheriff Hodgson’s side of the story (included in the press clip above), where he has blamed those detained for the violence. Our sources and our consistent contact with people inside detention (and, specifically in Bristol) have reported to us that they are regularly mistreated by ICE. Unfortunately, we continue to hear reports of retaliation from inside the walls of Bristol as detainees try to have their voices heard.
We invite you to join us in adding our names to the list of people amplifying the stories of those detained, who have told us about the many challenges they face in in having their voices heard – from sky-high phone call costs, to high barriers around whom one can call, to threats of retaliation of being put in solitary confinement for advocating for their safety.
We are asking Senator Warren, Senator Markey, and Congressman Kennedy to take the next step and visiting the Bristol County house of Corrections to observe and report on the conditions for themselves. Please call their offices! You can find their contact info here. Here is a sample script: “Thank you _____ for your leadership in calling for an immediate and independent investigation. Through our connections to people under ICE detention at the Bristol House of Corrections, we have heard accounts of cruel behavior by ICE before. We add our voices in support of those detained advocating for their own health and the health of the collective, and we ask that you go visit Bristol to see the conditions for yourselves.”
This moment of urgency is not happening in a vacuum. A recent joint study with research from Brown University's School of Public Health, Brandeis' Heller School, and others showed that based on modeling of transmission rates for people in immigration detention:
72% of individuals are expected to be infected by day 90 under the optimistic scenario, while nearly 100% of individuals are expected to be infected by day 90 under a more pessimistic scenario. The study also determined that, in the most optimistic scenario, coronavirus outbreaks among a minimum of 58 ICE facilities (52%) would overwhelm ICU beds within a 10- mile radius, and outbreaks among a minimum of 3 ICE facilities (3%) would overwhelm local ICU beds within a 50-mile radius over a 90-day period, provided every ICU bed were made available for sick detainees.
For many, detention at this time could become a death sentence. We continue to work toward the release of those detained and jailed through fundraising and paying bonds, through advocating for humanitarian parole, and supporting efforts by others calling for the release of many.
Grateful to be in this work with you, especially in this chaotic time,
Jeremy and Rachie