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COVID-19 cases triple among detainees at Batavia detention center

In one week, confirmed coronavirus cases have nearly tripled at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia.
Noelle E. C. Evans | WXXI News
In one week, confirmed coronavirus cases have nearly tripled at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia.

For the second week in a row, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among detainees at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia has more than tripled in a week. 

Forty-five detainees have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday. That’s more than any other detention facility in the country. 

One of those who tested positive for the coronavirus is a man in his 30s from the Dominican Republic. His attorney, Siana McLean, said he also has asthma and high blood pressure. 

McLean said there have been attempts to release him on humanitarian grounds since March 24, but his case was denied. 

She last spoke to him on Monday, and he told her he "was OK."

“But that only means that he’s still only able to talk and he’s not completely unable to function,” McLean said. “But he still complains of difficulty breathing at times.”

Jennifer Connor with Justice for Migrant Families has worked directly with detainees and their families since 2017. She said her No. 1 fear is that people will die who would have lived if they were in a different setting.

“This was in the hands of our local field director Thomas Feeley," Connor said, referring to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement field officer, "and he had the power to avoid this and he still has the power to change what is happening.” 

Feeley did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While on the phone with WXXI News, Connor received a message that a detainee, a Central American man in his 30s, was taken to the hospital from the detention center. Connor says the man first reported his symptoms on April 1. A week later, he was moved to a different area with six other detainees.

McLean said her client also had been moved to an open dorm with others who tested positive for the coronavirus. She said it is not a medical dorm, and there are no round-the-clock nurses.

The number of cases jumped nearly 250 percent from 13 cases at the end of last week. The week before that, four people in ICE custody at the detention center were confirmed to have the virus. No ICE employees have been reported to have tested positive.

Both Connor and McLean said there is still time to safely transport detainees to their families so they may quarantine with support.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.
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