March 23, 2021



Amilcar Valencia



Complaint details medical neglect and COVID-19 negligence at Stewart Detention Center

70 people currently and previously detained shared experiences inside SDC during COVID-19

First-hand accounts of medical neglect and COVID-19 negligence by 70 immigrants currently and previously detained at Stewart Detention Center are detailed in a complaint filed March 22 with the Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties and the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security by El Refugio, Freedom For Immigrants, and Project South.

Immigrants describe medical neglect, denying of releases for people with risk factors, inadequate cohorting and infection control, lack of social distancing, inappropriate PPE usage, lack of sanitation and disinfection, lack of testing, misinformation, and retaliation over the past year, as people in detention live in fear of getting seriously ill and not having access to medical care.

Four people have died of COVID-19 at Stewart Detention Center, and 491 positive cases have been reported, a number believed to be under-reported due to lack of testing.

“El Refugio, Freedom for Immigrants, Project South, and many more advocacy and legal service providers are concerned that ICE, CoreCivic, and Stewart County officials are failing to protect individuals and exacerbating the spread of COVID-19, causing serious and potentially irreversible harm to the health of those in custody,” according to the complaint.

The complaint requests a written response by Monday, March 29 that addresses the following:

  1. Release of detained individuals at SDC, starting with individuals who are considered high-risk
  2. Immediate investigation from the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Office of Inspector General looking into medical practices, denial of release, retaliation, and other COVID-19 precautions
  3. Termination of the Intergovernmental Services Agreement (IGSA) with ICE and Stewart County and abstention from entering into any new agreements

Here are some highlights from the complaint: 

Regarding medical neglect: 

On January 20, 2021, R.M.G. reported to the El Refugio Local Hotline that he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and that the doctor recommended intensive care because it affected his lungs, but Stewart Detention Center did not provide any further care.

Regarding denial of releases for people with risk factors: 

On December 18, 2020, an individual detained at Stewart who wished to remain anonymous reported to the Freedom for Immigrants National Hotline that he tested positive for COVID-19 and has high-blood pressure, is prone to heart attacks and is a cancer survivor, who was treated with chemotherapy. Yet he had not been released from SDC. 

Regarding the inability to socially distance at SDC: 

On December 28, 2020, a person who wished to remain anonymous called the El Refugio Local Hotline and reported the following: “I am prediabetic and they are still holding me in a 2-man cell despite the COVID-19 risk. It is packed in the unit. I bet you can barely hear me over the noise of all of the people in the room behind me.”

Regarding inadequate cohorting:

On December 21, 2020, Anderson Delroy reported to the Freedom for Immigrants National Hotline that they are mixing high-risk individuals with individuals who are not high-risk, proving how ICE and CoreCivic are violating their own policies of housing high-risk individuals in a separate unit.

Regarding inadequate PPE: 

On January 7, 2021, a person detained at SDC called the El Refugio Local Hotline asking if they could get more than one mask weekly. Because mask availability was so inconsistent, one man reported that “detainees ripped up clothing to use as masks.”

Regarding inadequate cleaning: 

On March 1, 2021, Edwin Mejia also reported that “there is only one soap dispenser for 84 men in one unit and when it runs out nobody refills it. On the weekends the majority of the time the men go without soap and paper towels.” A person wishing to remain anonymous continued by explaining that guards send COVID-19 positive patients to the medical unit, but no one from ICE or CoreCivic cleans the medical unit or any of the hallways after each patient.

Regarding lack of testing: 

On December 25, 2020, Raymond Anthony Sharpe reported to the Freedom for Immigrants National Hotline that he got a new roommate when, within two days, ICE, CoreCivic, and Stewart County added 40 new people to the facility who were not tested for COVID-19.

Regarding retaliation: 

On April 9, 2020 and April 20, 2020, a group of people detained at SDC who protested medical neglect and lack of COVID-19 precautions were met with pepper spray/pepper-ball guns, physical violence, and handcuffs from CoreCivic guards.

Shut down Stewart Detention Center

Since 2019, El Refugio has submitted eight CRCL complaints regarding medical neglect, retaliatory unlawful deportation of people publicly reporting medical abuse in ICE custody, and lack of COVID-19 precautions at SDC, with only one of those CRCL complaints resulting in a preliminary investigation, the complaint states.

“Years of data and testimony from people in ICE custody has proven that ICE and CoreCivic are incapable of providing adequate medical care and keeping people safe from harm at SDC,” according to the complaint. “In order to prevent more deaths and illnesses from occurring, the only possible recourse is the release of all people in ICE custody.”

The full complaint may be found here.


El Refugio provides hospitality, visitation, and support to immigrants at Stewart Detention Center and their loved ones. http://elrefugioministry.org