More than 3,000 medical professionals are calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release detainees amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In an open letter, the clinicians said the conditions inside detention facilities make it easy for the virus to spread and difficult for those in custody to seek medical attention.
“We strongly recommend that ICE implement community-based alternatives to detention to alleviate the mass overcrowding in detention facilities,” they said. “Individuals and families, particularly the most vulnerable—the elderly, pregnant women, people with serious mental illness, and those at higher risk of complications— should be released while their legal cases are being processed to avoid preventable deaths and mitigate the harm from a COVID-19 outbreak.”
The letter points to the spread of disease public health officials have seen in places like nursing homes, such as Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., where more than half of residents have tested positive for the virus and more than 20 percent have died in the past month.
“Considering the extreme risk presented by these conditions in light of the global COVID-19 epidemic, it is impossible to ensure that detainees will be in a ‘safe, secure and humane environment,’ as ICE’s own National Detention Standards state,” the letter added.
Since the start of the outbreak, some have raised concerns about immigration policies.
In February, Rep. Norma TorresNorma Judith TorresCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election House at war over Jan. 6 inquiry, mask mandate House Democrat says she sleeps with gun nearby after clashing with El Salvador's president MORE (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to the administration’s coronavirus task force and later led a group of Democrats asking them to stop the implementation of the “public charge” rule amid the spread of COVID-19.
On Monday the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against ICE, calling them to release migrants in civil detention at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center who are at high risk for serious illness or death if a COVID-19 outbreak spreads to the facility.
On Wednesday, Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy Homeland Security secretary, said that they would “temporarily adjust” enforcement, saying people should not avoid seeking “medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.”
“This foolish statement will jeopardize the health and security of all of us,” Andrea Flores of the ACLU said in a statement Thursday. “Rather than heeding public health experts’ calls to ensure individuals are not afraid to access care, Cuccinelli appears to want to sabotage our nation’s response to this pandemic."
“ICE should immediately suspend any enforcement activities that could deter individuals from accessing care. People and their families must feel safe to leave their homes and seek medical help or gather the necessary supplies to keep their families safe, regardless of immigration status. If ICE doesn’t give people that assurance, it puts everyone in more danger,” she added.