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Sergio España: Howard County needs to end its contract with ICE | COMMENTARY

A recent press conference held by CASA rang the alarms about the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in Howard County’s detention center. One of the impacted speakers in the press conference, Miguel, said: “I can’t forget what I lived through. I’ve never been in a jail like that.”

County Executive Calvin Ball, you must release the immigrants who are currently detained at the Howard County Detention Center and heed the growing call to end the county’s contract with ICE.

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Medical care at the Howard County Detention Center is wholly inadequate. Immigrants shared their stories of overcrowding. They shared their fear for the safety of other immigrants who are still detained. And they shared their experiences with the lack of proper medical care at the facility.

Pedro said: “I was a witness to many other guys having problems with medical there, as well. They wouldn’t assist some people that couldn’t speak or didn’t meet their standards. They wouldn’t respond to your medical requests in an adequate time either.”

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Pedro needed medical attention because he had an open wound on his hand that was bigger than the size of a quarter. He said: “I asked for stitches … I was in deep pain. All they did was put some ointment on my wound and just sent me to the ‘hole.’ I did not get proper medical assistance.” The “hole” refers to solitary confinement and is overused and is torturous for people subjected to it.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the detention center’s and ICE’s response to prevent its spread within the facility are further evidence that Howard County should just end its contract with ICE. Nationally, ICE has failed those people in its custody: There are more than 900 people in immigration detention who are positive for COVID-19. In the Howard County Detention Center, three staff members, including a nurse, have contracted COVID-19. No more should have to contract the virus, and certainly no one should die from it.

With more than 70,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Maryland and still not enough information available about positive cases in Maryland’s places of detention, this tragic backdrop is a dreadful omen of what is to come. Sadly, there will be COVID-19-related deaths in our immigration detention centers if we do not #ReleaseThemAll. Already, there are nine people in Maryland’s prisons (one staff member and eight inmates) who have died from COVID-19.

What we need now is for County Executive Ball to contribute to the effort to protect the immigrants at the Howard County Detention Center and use his power for good. Their lives count on it.

During Ball’s election campaign, he ran on a progressive platform that promised to support the immigrant community. As a County Council member, he introduced CB-9 in 2017, a bill that would have limited the ability of the county police to target and criminalize the Howard County immigrant community. (Then-County Executive Allan Kittleman vetoed the legislation after it passed in the County Council.) He was a courageous advocate who took a stand to protect his immigrant community.

It is time for Ball to remember this advocacy and do something now as Howard County’s executive.

Ball, be the advocate you once were and end your ICE detention contract once and for all.

The writer is the director of engagement and mobilization for the ACLU of Maryland.

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