Otay Mesa Detention Center
The Otay Mesa Detention Center is run by CoreCivic, a private company. Photo via corecivic.com.

More than 880 employees of private contractors running U.S. immigration detention centers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to congressional testimony Monday given by company executives.

The heads of four companies — CoreCivic, The GEO Group, Management & Training Corporation and LaSalle Corrections, which detain immigrants on contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — reported the infections among its employees in response to questions from lawmakers.

CoreCivic, which operates the Otay Mesa Detention Center, said about 500 of its nearly 14,000 employees had tested positive.

ICE has reported 45 cases of COVID-19 among its direct staff at detention facilities. Most of the employees at the privately run centers, however, work for private contractors and are not included in ICE’s count.

Lawmakers have raised concerns about the spread of the virus inside nearly 70 centers across the country. More than 3,000 immigrants in ICE custody have tested positive for COVID-19, though some have recovered or been released. Two detainees have died of the disease.

The chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-New York, said there had been reports among employees of rationing of personal protective equipment, inadequate medical care and delayed testing.

Geo Group said 167 of its 3,700 employees had come back with positive tests, with 69 recovered and one hospitalized. LaSalle said it had 144 employees with positive COVID-19 tests, out of the company’s some 3,000 employees, and MTC said 73 of its 1,200 employees had tested positive.

ICE did not comment on the figures or the allegations raised at the hearing.

There are currently nearly 22,580 detainees in ICE custody, a dramatic drop from the more than 50,000 migrants detained on average daily during the 2019 fiscal year. Arrests on the U.S.-Mexico border have declined in recent months and courts have ordered releases, citing coronavirus risks.

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