Activists Denounce ICE for Spraying Prisoners with Dangerous Chemicals During Pandemic

hdq neutral ICE Chemicals Activist BELatina Latinx
Photo by Jeremy Johnson via Flickr.

While the streets burn with the anger of protesters against structural racism in the country, detention centers for immigrants continue to be a hell on earth.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has taken a back seat in recent weeks, the most critical transmission sites — such as prisons and nursing homes — still don’t have the resources to deal with the transmission of the virus.

And while the country is distracted by other issues, prisoners in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers are being sprayed with chemicals that could be more dangerous than COVID-19, according to activist organizations.

In a lawsuit filed by the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Freedom for Immigrants, the testimony of several prisoners appears to indicate that Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers are “using a COVID-19 disinfectant on the facility over 50 times a day.”

“The disinfection spray that the facility is using is hurting us. Everyone in our facility has been having bloody noses, burning eyes, headaches and our bones have been hurting,” said one inmate about the HDQ Neutral spray used by officers in the facility. “On the bottle it says that it has ‘Irreversible eye damage and skin burns. Avoid breathing. Do not get in eyes or on skin. Wear goggles and face shields. Wash thoroughly after using.’ The facility is not protecting us from this spray. Our beds are right next to the door handles so when they spray it on the door handles it gets into our rooms and we breath the spray in. We have asked to be seen by the doctor but they have not stopped using the spray.”

The complaint introduced a few weeks ago exposes through several testimonies not only the use of a highly toxic product but also the poor conditions of the detention center.

“I started bleeding from my nose after being in contact with a strong chemical they are using. I am still bleeding, more than five hours later. An official had entered the bathrooms in the morning and sprayed a very strong disinfectant,” said another prisoner. “The spray is called HDQ Neutral. I was told about the spray’s name by an employee. When I complained to [supervisory staff], she told me that it is not her problem, but that of the cleaning and safety staff and to take it up with them. The staff had placed advisories on the walls, but it did not mention any safety risks or to wait a period of time before using the bathrooms.”

The organizations confirmed that the detainees are being sprayed every 15-30 minutes, and that the product has come into contact with their eyes, noses, mouths, skin, clothing, bedding, and even food and water, resulting in burns, allergic reactions, nausea, and fainting.

“We are especially concerned that the misuse of and purposeful exposure to such harsh chemicals is retaliatory,” the organizations wrote. “In late April, we received and made public reports from people in detention in Adelanto that they were cleaning the facility ‘just with water’ or shampoo and were not provided appropriate cleaning supplies to sanitize the facility.”

Similarly, the applicants demand that the detainees in Adelanto be released, “starting with those more vulnerable, to their families and communities where they can have safe housing.”