ACLU Demands that ICE Suspend Civil Enforcement, Release Detainees During COVID-19 Pandemic

April 3, 2020 2:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter today to the Department of Homeland Security demanding that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) temporarily suspend civil immigration enforcement and release those in civil detention for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. ACLU state affiliates — including in Southern and Northern California, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington state, and Texas — are urging ICE field offices, private prison operators, and local elected officials around the country to act to limit spread of the virus and save lives.

“Immigration detention should not be a death sentence,” said Andrea Flores, ACLU deputy director of policy, Equality Division. “Detention in ICE facilities is inherently dangerous as we endure the COVID-19 pandemic, and ICE has demonstrated it is unable to provide safe and sanitary conditions — even in the best of circumstances. This extraordinary public health crisis compels an extraordinary response. Temporarily suspending enforcement and releasing those in detention is necessary both for the safety of detainees and staff and to flatten the curve for all.”

“Immigrants must not be afraid to seek medical testing and care. ICE has alternatives to detention to ensure that immigrants appear at any proceedings, many of which are likely to be delayed or suspended due to the pandemic. Immigration detainees are charged with civil violations only — if any actually pose a danger to the public, then the criminal justice system is the proper way address that.”

The ACLU letter identifies immigration enforcement operations that have continued in places like California and New York, centers of COVID-19 outbreaks. This enforcement means that immigrants will be afraid to seek testing and medical care or carry out critical tasks like buying food and medicine. Continued enforcement and detention also puts ICE officers and their families at risk by forcing unnecessary contact, and may require the use of finite medical equipment that should be diverted to local hospitals.

Immigration jails are not designed or equipped to handle this extraordinary public health crisis. The ACLU has already sued ICE in eight states for the release of people especially vulnerable to serious illness or death. But in order to meaningfully reduce the systemic spread of the virus, all detainees must be temporarily released.

There are already at least six confirmed cases of people in ICE detention with COVID-19, as well as confirmed cases among staff at detention centers across the country. ICE currently detains more than 35,000 people in civil detention around the country — in March, the agency increased the number of people in detention by more than 700.

The letter is online here:…

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