The Mass. Dept. of Public Health reports that people of color are disproportionately affected by coronavirus, with Latinos and blacks accounting for 23 and 18 percent of Covid-19 cases despite making up only 12 and 9 percent of the state’s population respectively.
While detailed statistics for Barnstable County are not yet available, it’s clear that immigrants and undocumented people are especially vulnerable. With less access to safety nets and working essential jobs that are impossible to do remotely, immigrants are generally at higher risk of becoming infected, according to the Washington Post.
Rallying support for immigrants is proving difficult. Driving Families Forward is a coalition working to pass state legislation to allow anyone, regardless of immigration status, to apply for a driver’s license. The Outer Cape’s Sen. Julian Cyr and Rep. Sarah Peake are both sponsors. But not much is happening now.
Many immigrants without drivers’ licenses opt to take public transit or carpool, potentially putting themselves at risk. Marginalized communities are receiving too little attention during the pandemic, said Natalicia Tracey, co-chair of the coalition. “We’re concerned that the most vulnerable communities are being made the last priority again.”
In overcrowded Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers, maintaining social distancing is impossible. As Vox recently reported, detainees at the Bristol County ICE facility claimed they were put in solitary confinement without medical treatment after exhibiting symptoms and lacked basic essentials like soap and toilet paper.
Dr. Roger Shapiro, an infectious disease researcher at Harvard Medical School, said that decreasing the number of people in ICE detention centers is critical to limiting the spread of the virus.
“We need to keep people safe first and foremost,” Shapiro told the Independent. “Detention centers are places where the virus could spread quite easily.” An outbreak in an ICE detention facility would spread through officers, affecting public health beyond the facility.
Despite these concerns, the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office is still referring detainees to ICE.
Special Sheriff Jeff Perry told the Independent that the county’s relationship with ICE has remained unchanged since the pandemic began: officers continue to refer inmates without legal status to ICE.
The sheriff’s office referred 102 people to ICE in 2019, up from 79 in 2018. A total of just 15 were referred to ICE in all of 2016 and 2017, before Sherriff James Cummings secured one of the few 287(g) ICE collaboration agreements in New England.