Watch CBS News

"We are trapped": Immigrant women detained during pandemic speak out

Detained migrants speak out on coronavirus fears
"We are trapped": Immigrant women speak out from detention amid pandemic 06:21

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated concerns among advocates about the conditions inside the nation's immigration jails. CBS News spoke with five women detained at a for-profit prison in Jena, Louisiana, who are pleading for their release. 

Like many of the roughly 34,000 immigrants currently held by ICE, the women feel powerless to protect themselves from the deadly contagion, which has already infected at least 72 detainees and 19 employees in more than two dozen facilities across 11 states. Excerpts of interviews with the women, some of which were in Spanish, appear below.

Arlet Victoria Remón Pérez

Asylum-seeker from Cuba

  • "We are also at risk of dying. We are also people, human beings. And here, at this detention center, they are not protecting us."
  • "We came to this country asking for protection."
  • "Only our families worry about us. They suffer with us. But the whole world seems to have forgotten that we are here, and that we are human, and that we can also get sick, and that we can also die in a place like this." 

Eliana Hecheverría

Asylum-seeker from Cuba

  • "We're all going to get sick, from us, the immigrants here, to the officers and their families as well. All of us will get sick."
  • "(I came) seeking protection, but I've encountered the complete opposite. I came looking for freedom, but I've been detained for a year. And in the end, I think I may have to go back to Cuba. And it is not what I want because I can't return to Cuba because of my political opinion and sexual orientation."

Marlene Seo

Green card holder, born in Mexico

  • "They are forgetting us. All the rules that are being abided by out there are not being applied inside here — at all."
  • "Why does this process have to be so long? It's immigration. You're not paying for a crime. You're just waiting for an immigration process. It should not take so long. America is based on immigrants, founded on immigrants. Why are we being subjected to waiting so long for a simple decision?"
  • "I've been so burdened by everybody's story, and I'm the one that has to translate for everybody, so they tell me everything, and I'm unable to unload my burden on anybody, but I just take everybody's story and my heart weighs heavy on everybody's pain."
  • "I base myself on my faith, on God helping me and getting me through this. But it's tough. I can't speak for my family, but for me, this has been a very, very emotional rollercoaster. I've never had to deal with something so severe and … I don't see the humanity."


Russian immigrant

  • "I'm scared because it's such a crazy situation, like outside and inside. We're not safe here, because ... it's so much people, so much girls."
  • "We're in a dangerous place. I could understand if we could go back to our countries, but our countries are closed down."


Dominican immigrant 

  • "I'm panicked — very concerned."
  • "We fear for our lives, since we've been watching the news ... It's terrifying. It's mortifying."
  • "We are too close, too close to each other, breathing the same air. We are trapped."
View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.