ACLU sues to get ICE detainees out of Calhoun County jail amid outbreak


BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (WOOD) — Authorities are investigating a COVID-19 outbreak at the Calhoun County Correctional Facility involving two dozen inmates, primarily immigrants.

County spokesperson Lucy Blair said 24 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus. All were isolated. Two were symptomatic and both are being supervised in medical quarantine. Two staff members also tested positive.

Officials said the outbreak is limited to one pod in the jail that mostly houses immigrants.  The jail is a detention facility for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Arleen Xirum’s husband Oscar Xirum-Sanchez, a native of Guatemala, an ICE detainee who has contracted the virus.

“He’s anxious, he’s depressed,” Xirum told News 8. “His emotional and mental health is not doing well.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against ICE in an attempt to get detainees, specifically those at high risk for developing a serious case of COVID-19, out of the jail. Among them is Xirum-Sanchez, who has a pre-existing condition.

An undated courtesy photo of Arlene Xiram and Oscar Xiram-Sanchez.

Xirum told News 8 her husband has been working to gain U.S. citizenship but the process has been slowed by the pandemic. He has been detained since mid-August.

In a statement included in the ACLU’s lawsuit, Xirum-Sanchez said he tested positive for the virus Oct. 22 and is now in a medical unit within the jail. He said he has a bad cough and has been having difficulty breathing.

“I am scared about the way things are being handled. I am frightened for my health. I worry that I am in the medical unit now because my condition is severe and I am dying, but nobody is telling me anything,” Xirum-Sanchez’s statement, which was given verbally in Spanish and then translated into English by an attorney for court records, reads in part.

Xirum said her husband has been treated like an “animal” while in the jail and isn’t getting the medical attention he needs.

“He couldn’t breathe,” Xirum said. “He had a cough attack and got so worried and so nervous.” 

Xirum-Sanchez also claimed the jail isn’t implementing appropriate social distancing measures and that the paper mask he was given when he arrived at the jail still hasn’t been replaced with a fresh one.

“The staff is not doing anything to keep us informed and they don’t seem to be doing anything to stop the spread of the virus. It seems they are more concerned with preventing information about what is happening here from spreading than they are about preventing COVID-19 from spreading,” Xirum-Sanchez stated.

Calhoun County Public Health Department workers told News 8 the jail is working to disinfect the facility.

“They’ve been doing everything the right way and doing their best to keep this from spreading any further,” health department Health Officer Eric Pressell said.

Authorities said this is the first COVID-19 outbreak at the facility since the start of the pandemic, though it has previously dealt with 11 other cases. Pressell said it will be “very hard” to determine its exact source.

Meanwhile, the ACLU told News 8 it has freed about two dozen immigrants from the jail, with plans to bring more, like Xirum-Sanchez, back home.

“He doesn’t know what to do,” his wife said. “He’s scared; losing all hope.”

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