How ICE Is Spreading Coronavirus Across the Country

“Social distancing goes out the window” when detainees are moved repeatedly, via bus or plane, between facilities.

After Stephane Etienne was ordered deported to Haiti in February, ICE began to repeatedly transfer him from one detention center to another. Over the course of six weeks, he was transferred eight times between five different facilities in three states — even as President Trump and governors all over the country discouraged unnecessary travel.

Every time Etienne was moved, he was packed into a bus or plane with other detainees.


“Social distancing goes out the window,” Etienne said.

Eventually, his movements began to intersect with outbreaks of COVID-19, and after he arrived at the Pine Prairie detention center in Louisiana in April, he tested positive for the disease.

Etienne has no way of knowing where he contracted the virus. “The way ICE transfers you so many times, it’s almost impossible,” he said. He’s also been forced to interact with older detainees and some with underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to the disease.

Immigrant advocates have long complained of excessive transfers between ICE facilities, which they say makes it difficult for detainees to reach their families and attorneys. Now they’re decrying the practice for the additional danger it presents during the coronavirus pandemic.

VICE News examines how ICE has likely contributed to spreading COVID-19 within the detention system.

Cover: Stephane Etienne, a detainee at the Pine Prairie detention center in Louisiana (Right). (VICE News Tonight/VICE TV)