Inside the ICE detention wing, the signs of clashes lingered hours after violence erupted and pepper spray was fired.
Mattresses had been flung onto the floor. Detainees’ belongings were strewn across the room. A message that appeared to be scrawled in soap on a window simply said: “HELP US.”
Weeks later, officials and lawyers representing detainees at the C. Carlos Carreiro Immigration Detention Center in Bristol County, Massachusetts, are still painting a starkly different picture of what unfolded that day. But they agree on one thing: The May 1 brawl began with a dispute over coronavirus testing.
Multiple investigations into the incident are underway. And the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit this week calling for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the facility under an agreement with ICE, to release surveillance videos and other records. The sheriff’s office says it will do so once investigations are completed.
Immigrant rights advocates say regardless of what investigators uncover, the clashes earlier this month at this detention facility in western Massachusetts exposed a dire situation that’s unfolding across the country and growing worse by the day.
Tensions over the coronavirus have been simmering in the sprawling network of US immigrant detention centers for months. But advocates say there are signs that fears of contagion are intensifying for the more than 26,000 detainees in ICE custody and the guards charged with protecting them — and that tensions are boiling over.
Advocacy groups say hunger strikes have been on the rise since concerns about Covid-19 surged. So have reports of incidents involving use of force, such as the pepper spray that officers fired at the Bristol County facility on May 1.
“It’s a huge increase. This is a trend,” said Silky Shah, executive director of the Detention Watch Network, which is pushing to end immigrant detention in the United States and regularly tracks reports of hunger strikes and other incidents at ICE facilities as part of its advocacy efforts.
“This is what ICE detention is. And it’s not unique to any one facility. In so many different places, we’re seeing similar procedures and practices.”