Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Deputy Director Albence:
In response to the humanitarian and public health challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, I urge you to exercise your authority to ensure that your agencies take critical steps to mitigate the risk of infection, illness, and death for the men, women, and children in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, as well as facility staff. One of the most critical steps your agencies can immediately implement is to release the immigrants and asylum-seekers held in ICE federal detention facilities and county and local jails.
Detained individuals will face grave risks if exposed to infection in immigration detention facilities, where rapid spread within crowded centers is of major concern. Many individuals in immigration detention are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their age or serious medical needs. Conditions in immigration detention are well-documented to have substandard medical care, inadequate basic hygiene, and overcrowding.
The release of immigrants in civil, administrative detention is warranted in the public interest to reduce the number of individuals in detention facilities, prisons and jails to limit the spread of COVID-19 to both detainees and staff and ensure that medical staff—and area hospitals—have the capacity to manage COVID-19 cases that may arise. Public health experts have already recommended reducing prison and detention populations.
Your agencies are responsible for the health and safety of the immigrants and asylum-seekers detained in ICE facilities and must take all appropriate steps to protect these individuals from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many immigrants currently detained are longtime residents of the U.S. who were taken from established lives in this country, and many others, including asylum-seekers, have close family, faith and other community ties who would help house them.
I urge your field offices to proactively work with local legal, humanitarian, faith-based, health and community organizations -- as well as state and local public health officials -- to swiftly and safely reduce the populations of immigration detention facilities and mitigate the inevitable spread of COVID-19 to the men, women, and children held in these facilities.
Communication and coordination are also needed to ensure that those with underlying health needs receive continuous medical care upon release. For all releases, ICE should communicate with the detainee, their attorney and family, as well as with community and local health resources to ensure any necessary care and to coordinate safe travel arrangements for detainees who are released from the COVID-19 pandemic.