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Advocates: Asylum seekers tested, offered vaccination before release by ICE into Shreveport

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SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Advocates in Shreveport working to help asylum seekers say immigrants are being tested for COVID-19 before their release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers (ICE), as well as being given the option to get vaccinated.

“What we understand from talking to the detention centers as well as Louisiana Department of Health is that vaccines are being offered in every detention center in Louisiana,” said Francis Kelly, a volunteer with the Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants and Detention.

Kelly says no one who tests positive is getting on a bus to Shreveport.

“We have told ICE that we will only pick up people who have a negative COVID test. So, they get tested usually the day before or the morning of.”

Instead, they go to Chicot State Park, a site provided by the state for those who need a safe place to quarantine.  

A Haitian woman who wishes to remain anonymous says she tested negative, but that ICE was not aggressive about testing at the detention center in Jonesboro, Louisiana where she was held and that they did not make it a priority unless detainees were showing symptoms. The experience overall, she says, was not a pleasant one.

“They weren’t friendly. They let you sleep on the floor. just give you something like a cardboard. I spent five days without showering, brushing my teeth, and using any deodorant. And it was worse for me because I was on my menstrual cycle.”

Another woman from Cuba says she left the country three weeks ago with her husband due to her workplace forcing her to protest the country’s political regime, and they did not want to get involved.  

When they arrived at the border, they were separated. She says ICE did not even give her access to a phone to contact her husband.

“So desperate to contact him to tell him that I was fine,” she said trying to hold herself from crying.

Her husband was released before her.

“…four days in a row asking people with my picture if they had seen me,” she said.

Both women headed to the airport Thursday afternoon to finally reunite with their families.  As for their treatment by ICE, the immigration advocate says things have improved since a civil rights complaint was filed last month claiming protocols were not being followed.

“But we are expecting they will come into compliance, and we will continue to talk to elected officials and ICE,” Kelly said.

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