ACLU Urges ICE to Restart Release of Medically Vulnerable People From Custody, Provide Antiviral Medications for COVID-19

January 5, 2023 9:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas today urging Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to restart custody determination reviews for the release of people who are medically vulnerable to COVID-19, and issue mandatory guidance requiring all immigration detention facilities to provide COVID-19 antiviral medication. The letter comes after ICE removed all provisions regarding the release of medically vulnerable people from its latest Pandemic Response Requirements (PRR), and failed to require detention facilities to make available COVID-19 antiviral drugs, such as Paxlovid.

“ICE detention centers continue to pose a high risk of COVID-related harm to medically vulnerable people,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project. “ICE’s failure to require the most basic and easily-administered treatments for COVID-19 to immigrants in detention is reckless and will lead to avoidable harm, including serious illness and death.”

Recent studies and clinical trials show antiviral medications, such as Paxlovid, are among the most effective and easily administered treatments to prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19. Yet ICE’s policy for management of COVID-19 does not require detention facilities to obtain or provide COVID-19 antiviral medications for people in detention, and instead, only recommends that facilities be assessed for treatment with monoclonal antibody therapy, which is no longer authorized by the FDA.

For a more complete picture of ICE’s response, the ACLU also sent a public records request to ICE today asking for all records relating to the provision of COVID-19 antiviral treatments since January 2022, including the type of antiviral drugs and number of treatments prescribed and provided to people detained in immigration facilities, including by facility and date.

The FOIA request is online here.

The letter is online here.

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