MIAMI — U.S. immigration officials say they plan to begin testing some foreign nationals for the coronavirus before deporting them from the United States.
ICE said it will acquire approximately 2,000 tests a month from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to screen detainees with final orders of removal who are in its custody. But given the nationwide shortages of testing kits, “the agency likely won’t have enough to test all aliens scheduled for future removals and will prioritize testing based on evolving operational considerations.”
ICE did not say what those considerations were.
The agency and the Trump administration have been the center of a political firestorm and are accused of exporting the virus that causes the deadly COVID-19 respiratory disease to vulnerable and poor countries in the region. ICE has admitted to not routinely testing deportees before loading them onto its charter flights, even though a growing number of employees and detainees inside its detention centers are showing up positive for COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, only 425 out of 32,309 detainees had been tested for the coronavirus, according to ICE. Of those who were tested, 297 people, or 70 percent, tested positive as of Thursday.
Jean Négot Bonheur Delva, the head of Haiti’s Office of National Migration, told the Herald that instead of 129 deportees as expected, Haiti received 125 on Thursday, including 49 children. All are Haitians who had illegally entered the U.S., many from Brazil and Chile. They are currently in quarantine for the next 14 days, Delva said, where they will be watched for symptoms and tested for COVID-19.
On Friday, a Haiti scientific group made up mostly of doctors called for a pause in deportations, warning they could further overwhelm the country’s ability to respond to the outbreak. The group was put together by Haitian President Jovenel Moïse to advise the government on how to manage the coronavirus crisis.
“If the borders are blocked, what sense does this deportation have?” said Dr. Guerda Coicou, an anesthesiologist. Coicou said the suspension request is among several recommendations the group has made to the president along with a continued and strengthened closure of all of Haiti’s borders.
Haiti currently has 72 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases, including three deportees who recently arrived, and five deaths.
Dr. William Pape, the co-president of another Haitian presidential COVID-19 committee, told the local newspaper Le Nouvelliste that based on modeling done by New York’s Cornell University and England’s Oxford University, Haiti is looking at possibly tens of thousands of deaths.
In a worse case scenario, Pape said, 86% of the population would become infected with COVID-19 and as many as 432,000 people would need to be hospitalized. That would require 9,000 hospital beds, which Haiti does not currently have. If it did, the country would register a death toll of at least 20,000.
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