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immigration

COVID-19 cases in ICE detention centers have jumped 520 percent this year

The number of COVID-19 infections among U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees has risen 520 percent since the start of the new year, CBS News reports, "prompting calls for increased vaccination efforts and detainee releases."

Per government statistics, cases jumped more than sixfold between Jan. 3 and Thursday, when 1,766 immigrants were being monitored due to confirmed coronavirus infections, writes CBS News. As of Jan. 3, there were just 285 active cases.

The recent surge arrives as the highly-transmissible Omicron variant continues its rampant spread nationwide, renewing concerns surrounding ICE's vaccination campaign among detainees and preventative procedures.

Per unpublished ICE records, 37.6 percent of immigants who have been offered the vaccine while in custody have declined it, CBS News reports. Experts attribute that refusal rate to misinformation, distrust of the government, and a lack of vaccine education.

"Making vaccines available to detainees is essential but it must be coupled with effective education and counseling to overcome skepticism and confusion regarding COVID and vaccinations," said Scott Allen, a doctor focused on the medical treatment of migrants, to CBS News. 

"As for anyone else, he added, "a decision to accept or decline a vaccination involves informed consent, so health education and individual counseling has to be part of the strategy to increase vaccination uptake among detainees."

Lawyers have also been urging ICE to "release immigrants with medical conditions," especially with COVID-19 infections on the rise, CBS News reports.

"The number of people who are medically vulnerable in ICE custody is shocking," said ACLU lawyer Eunice Cho. "The Biden administration needs to take a very quick and hard look at who they are detaining and be very aggressive about making sure they are releasing people to the safety of their homes."