In a press statement, Interfaith Coalition on Immigration (ICOM) announced that immigrant detainees had begun a hunger strike at the Sherburne County jail in Elk River, Minnesota.
ICOM explained that the hunger strikers have asked for their release from Sherburne County Jail.
In the statement, ICOM explained they believe “ in the humanity, dignity, and leadership of people in detention and those formerly incarcerated, and we honor their single, rational, humanitarian demand: to be released until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”
ICOM “engages in courageous spiritual, multicultural action in solidarity with immigrants and refugees to achieve justice and stand up to systems of oppression.”
ICOM also provided statements from anonymous detainees
“I’m afraid that I can get sick from coronavirus…I ask that if you can help me, as here is a bad place to be sick in. There is no prevention of anything… I let you know that I am afraid…”
“My fear and my worry is that in this place I can be infected by coronavirus 19 something which I’m not sure of due to lack of tests that have not been carried out in this restrictive space.”
“I have medical problems and If I get the virus I can die in this place…we cannot do distancing when we go to eat. Tables are small and sometimes there are up to 4 pl at each table. New detainees keep coming in from different places.”
Over 1,000 ICE detainees in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not have its own facility in Minnesota; therefore, the agency contracts with sheriff’s offices in Sherburne, Freeborn, Carver and Nobles counties. In Minnesota, the Sherburne County jail houses more immigrant detainees than any other county facility. As a result, the housing of federal detainees and the separation of families has been tentatively lucrative for Sherburne County.
Current Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott was appointed in 2009. In an October 22, 2010 letter to the editor, Brott explains the importance of federal revenue:
“Sherburne County is in the fortunate and enviable position of bringing in a great deal of revenue through our contracts with federal agencies and other local entities. The Justice Center revenue allows Sherburne County to attain assets that it otherwise would not be able to fund or would have to fund through taxpayer dollars. This results in profit for the county.”
Federal prisoners are preferred in Sherburne County jail because they generate more revenue for the jail. This is because they generate a higher per diem per inmate rate from federal budgets; at least $88 dollars compared to the Minnesota Department of Correction (DOC) rate of $55 dollars.
Unlike other counties that house detainees, Sherburne County routes federal and state monies to the Jail Center Enterprise Fund. The 2016 Sherburne County Popular Annual Financial Report explains:
“The county’s Justice Center Enterprise Fund operates like a business, supporting itself with charges for services. The principal operating revenues of the Justice Center Enterprise Fund are charges for services to house inmates. Operating expenses included the cost of staffing, administrative expenses, and depreciation.”
We have asked Sherburne County for comment and will update this article as soon as new information is available.