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Top House Oversight Democrats ask DHS to reduce immigrant detainee population

Top House Oversight Democrats ask DHS to reduce immigrant detainee population
© Greg Nash

The top Democrat on the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the head of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties asked acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfDoes the US owe amnesty to future illegal immigrants? Travel industry calls on Trump administration to prevent the need for quarantines by creating a testing plan Voting rights group files suit against Trump, administration officials alleging voter intimidation MORE to reduce immigrant detainee populations amid the risk of a coronavirus outbreak at a detention facility.

Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyTrump, House lawyers return to court in fight over subpoena for financial records Safeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt Fears grow of voter suppression in Texas MORE (D-N.Y.) and subcommittee Chairman Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinCongress must repeal tax breaks for the wealthy passed in CARES Act COVID-19 and the problem of presidential succession Warren, Porter to headline progressive fundraiser supporting seven swing state candidates MORE (D-Md.) wrote in a letter to Wolf on Tuesday: "The Department [of Homeland Security] cannot continue to drag its feet in response to this crisis. Now is the time to prevent an exponential increase in cases and deaths."

The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Matthew Albence, and the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Mark Morgan, were also listed as recipients.

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In their letter, Maloney and Raskin said Homeland Security has not provided the panel with enough information on how its agencies will prevent overcrowding to reduce the risk of contagion in detention centers.

The lawmakers added that 19 detainees and seven detention facility staff have tested positive for the coronavirus so far.

"The Department must take swift action to decrease the detainee population to prevent further spread of this disease. In light of recent reports of detainees and staff testing positive at multiple detention centers, the high risk of further outbreaks in the near future, and the lack of adequate medical staff and equipment, we call on you to immediately release non-violent detainees, prioritizing those who are at higher risk for complications from coronavirus," wrote Maloney and Raskin.

ICE, the agency responsible for immigration enforcement in the interior of the country, has cut down on arrests of immigrants who do not pose an immediate public safety threat.

But the agency also operates and contracts out detention centers, and it has not announced any plans to reduce detention center populations.

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"Finally, although ICE officials informed Committee staff that they are 'scrubbing' lists of detainees to determine whether any can be released, ICE has not produced to the Committee any criteria or information about which immigrants will be released or when that will happen," wrote the lawmakers.

"To the contrary, ICE has continued to challenge lawsuits seeking to free nonviolent immigrants
from dangerous detention facilities," they added.

An ICE spokeswoman told The Hill that the agency determines releases on a case-by-case basis.

"When making such decisions, ICE officers weigh a variety of factors, including the person’s criminal record, immigration history, ties to the community, risk of flight, and whether he or she poses a potential threat to public safety. ICE also routinely makes custody re-determinations of those in detention, based on individual circumstances, and may release detainees onto alternatives to detention (ATD) and other monitoring programs, for a variety of reasons, to include health reasons," wrote the spokeswoman.

Maloney and Raskin in their letter requested Albence and Morgan provide the committee with a video briefing by April 14.