Nonprofit organizations push back on ICE detention facility increases

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Gov. Greg Abbott's calls to increase ICE detention facilities are facing pushback.

Some Valley residents started a letter-writing campaign to U.S. Rep Filemon Vela (D-Brownsville).  They want all ICE detainees to be released due to COVID-19 risks. 

In 2020, 33-year-old Hilder Lainez-Alvarez said he was caught illegally crossing the border and was put in ICE custody. 

Having severe asthma, Lainez-Alvarez caught the coronavirus while inside the El Valle Detention Center in Raymondville. 

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Lainez-Alvarez said he was given a COVID-19 test and it came back positive. For quarantining, he said he was put into solitary confinement. 

"I [did] 30 days alone in the room," Lainez-Alvarez said. "No nothing."

Norma Herrera of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing human rights and quality of life for historically marginalized groups in the region, said there is no safe humane way to detain anyone during a pandemic. 

Herrera said the nonprofit started a letting-writing campaign to Congressman Vela, who she said has been sympathetic to the issue of COVID-19 and ICE detentions. 

Last year, Herrera, and other nonprofits like Equal Voice Network, sent 9,000 letters to ICE, advocating the release of detainees. 

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Now, under the Biden administration, the organizations have renewed hope. 

"We need our local officials to stand up for those in detention," Herrera said. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the El Valle Detention Center has had a total of 155 confirmed cases. The Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos has had 298 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. 


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