Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Centers Requires the Release of Detainees

William D. Lopez, Nolan Kline, Alana M.W. LeBrón, Nicole L. Novak, Maria Elena de Trinidad Young, Gregg Gonsalves, Ranit Mishori, Basil A. Safi, Ian M. Kysel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Immigration detention centers are densely populated facilities in which restrictive conditions limit detainees’ abilities to engage in social distancing or hygiene practices designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With tens of thousands of adults and children in more than 200 immigration detention centers across the United States, immigration detention centers are likely to experience COVID-19 outbreaks and add substantially to the population of those infected. Despite compelling evidence indicating a heightened risk of infection among detainees, state and federal governments have done little to protect the health of detained im-migrants. An evidence-based public health framework must guide the COVID-19 response in immigration detention centers. We draw on the hierarchy of controls framework to demonstrate how immigration detention centers are failing to implement even the least effective control strategies. Drawing on this framework and recent legal and medical advocacy efforts, we argue that safely releasing detainees from immigration detention centers into their communities is the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in immigration detention settings. Failure to do so will result in infection and death among those detained and deepen existing health and social inequities. (Am J Public Health. 2021;111:110–115.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-115
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican journal of public health
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


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