Frank LoMonte Comments on Withholding Information on Immigrant Health Status and Hand Washing
Frank LoMonte, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Brechner Center for Freedom of Information director, was quoted in “Inmate at Krome Detention Center Tests Positive for COVID-19. Here’s How ICE Kept It Quiet” published in the Miami Herald on April 7.
The article focuses on an immigration inmate that tested positive for COIVD-19, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not divulge the information until the detainee was technically no longer in the detention center — but rather at a hospital.
According to LoMonte, there’s no absolute legal compulsion for agencies to give out statistics, that they are only obligated to respond if they’re presented with a Freedom of Information Act request.
“But they absolutely should not be putting out incomplete or misleading numbers that give a false sense of assurance,” he said. “‘Custody’ is a specific legal term and it means more than just ‘physical custody.’ If an inmate is in a van going from the prison to the hospital, he’s still in custody even though he’s not in a cell. So, it’s misleading if ICE numbers of patients in custody are omitting people who are hospitalized.”
LoMonte adds, “You would expect the sickest people to be taken to the hospital, so if the statistics are excluding those people, then we’re not hearing about the most serious cases. ICE has maybe 50,000 detention beds and half a million people a year are going through those detention centers, so if there’s widespread transmission of COVID-19, that’s potentially a lot of people at risk.”
LoMonte was also mentioned in the CNN “Reliable Sources” newsletter by Oliver Darcy for allowing his CJC students to receive extra-credit for reciting the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution while washing their hands.
Students in the media law class could film themselves hand washing and reciting for extra credit points (plus an extra five for some creativity) and the student response was favorable.
“At least 87 people are never going to forget what’s in the First Amendment,” LoMonte said.