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Deportees arriving next Tuesday will be COVID-19-free, says US Embassy

THE United States (US) Embassy in Kingston is seeking to allay fears that 62 Jamaicans scheduled to be deported from that country next Tuesday could add to Jamaica’s woes in dealing with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

According to the embassy, while the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues its removal operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the health, safety, and well-being of detainees in ICE custody are among the US Government’s highest priorities.

“It should be noted that the United States has taken, and continues to take, important steps to safeguard the health and safety of those in its custody, including during removal operations. As such, ICE does not remove aliens who are not fit for travel, including any detainee confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19,” said the embassy in a release yesterday.

It added that at least 12 hours before detainees depart their current location to the ICE Air Operations flight line they are screened for elevated temperatures or other symptoms.

“Moreover, a final temperature check of each detainee is conducted at the flight line prior to boarding removal flights in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Any ICE detainee who fails to pass screening by a flight medical provider and/or is suspected of having a health condition potentially contagious to other detainees, staff and/or third parties, will be denied boarding and referred to an ICE-approved facility for further screening and evaluation,” the embassy said.

The release from the US Embassy hit the local media minutes after the Ministry of National Security issued its own news release defending its decision to accept the deportees despite a strong recommendation from the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) to ask the Americans to postpone the deportations.
Early yesterday PNP spokesman on information Julian Robinson urged the Government to immediately re-engage the US authorities to postpone the deportation of Jamaicans until local health authorities have confirmed that it is safe and prudent to reopen the island’s borders.

According to Robinson, Prime Minister Andrew Holness should explain to the US that the closure of the country’s borders is to protect Jamaican citizens against the spread of the deadly COVID- 19, and that it is only after the borders are reopened that there can be a restoration of the normal process of responsible deportation.

“Even if pressure has been exerted upon our Government to give in, it is the Government’s sacred duty to make a compelling case that protects our country, because of the threat COVID-19 poses to the lives of the Jamaican people. Anyone travelling abroad, who has not been screened and cleared of the infection, poses a direct threat to the public health of the Jamaican people at this time,” said Robinson.

But in a mid-afternoon release the Ministry of National Security said it has put in place measures to facilitate the safe return and accommodation of the deportees and argued that their arrival is not a novel occurrence.

“It is one of the monthly returns [which was] scheduled to arrive in the country on March 26, 2020. However, the Government negotiated a further date to prepare for the [deportees’] arrival under measures imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“In keeping with the Jamaican Constitution and the Jamaica Nationality Act, Jamaica is duty- bound to accept [deportees]. The Government acknowledges the long-standing arrangement with the United States Department of Homeland Security for the repatriation of Jamaicans who do not have the legal right to remain in the United States,” said the ministry in its release.

According to the release, Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang is seeking to assure the nation that the Government is committed to ensuring respect for human rights and the elimination of discrimination under all circumstances.

“There will be controlled re-entry while observing COVID-19 prevention protocols,” the release quoted Chang.

“The Government is dedicated to the safety of all Jamaicans and continues to make necessary adjustments to recent sanctions under the Disaster Risk Management Act,” it added.

The release said that on arrival the deportees will be quarantined for two weeks in a secure Government facility, where they will be processed by the relevant authorities.

“The Ministry of Health and Wellness recently conducted sensitisation sessions with staff at the facility; detailing potential health risks of COVID-19 and how to detect and report signs of the virus,” said the security ministry.

The security ministry added that while under quarantine the deportees will be screened twice daily by medical officers assigned by the health ministry.

At the end of the quarantine period, deportees who are cleared by health officials will be released to family members.

“The Government understands the public’s concern regarding the repatriation of fellow Jamaicans to the country during this time. However, we continue to be guided by our health officials and security forces to uphold best practices during the COVID-19 pandemic,” declared the security ministry.