Little is known about the prevalence of COVID-19 in immigration detention facilities run by ICE. Although ICE regularly updates some basic statistics on its COVID-19 webpage, its reporting is inconsistent and inadequate, making it impossible to answer basic questions about the risks detained people face. In this report, the Vera Institute of Justice has built an epidemiological model to estimate the prevalence of COVID-19 in detention. Using the most recent publicly available ICE data, the model specifically explores how new book-ins to—and frequent transfers between—detention centers may be contributing to COVID-19’s spread among people in immigration detention. The model makes clear that ICE is severely underreporting the prevalence of COVID-19 in detention. As Vera’s model demonstrates, the true scale of the spread of COVID-19 in ICE detention is likely to be shockingly high.

Among the report's key takeaways:

  • The median outcome from Vera’s model shows that nearly 1 in 5 people detained by ICE for any length of time during the 60-day simulation period ending on May 15, 2020 would be infected with COVID-19.
  • By day 60 of the simulation—corresponding to May 15, 2020—the estimated number of cumulative COVID-19 cases would be 15 times higher than the number of cases ICE reported.
  • If ICE continued its historical transfer patterns, it would have conducted 1,744 transfers of people with COVID-19 across the country within the 60-day simulation period.
  • By day 60 of the simulation, 9 percent of people who have ever had COVID-19 would be transferred by ICE at least once while actively contagious.

For more information about the underlying public data or Vera’s methodology on this report, please contact dkuo@vera.org.