House Democrats sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement calling for the agencies not to redetain immigrants who were released from government detention during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many detention centers have released illegal immigrants from custody so that they didn’t have to face crowded conditions and possible exposure to the coronavirus, Politico reported Wednesday.
According to The Hill, federal courts have ordered the release of “thousands of migrants” across the country because of the COVID-19 risk in detention facilities.
The letter from dozens of progressive Democratic lawmakers led by Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal said that more than 16,000 immigrants have contracted COVID-19 in ICE custody and nine have died after contracting it as of the end of May.
Although case numbers have gone down, the lawmakers wrote that “[c]onditions of confinement continue to endanger the safety of detained people, staff, and communities surrounding ICE detention facilities.”
The Democrats — who included “squad” members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — claimed that ICE’s redetention policy is inconsistent and has created uncertainty.
“Re-detaining individuals solely as a result of our nation’s recovery from the pandemic is unacceptable,” they wrote in the letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson.
“We respectfully request that DHS and ICE take prompt action to ensure that there is a clear policy regarding individuals who have been released from detention due to COVID-19.”
The lawmakers added, “In addition, we request that DHS and ICE ensure that health and safety measures, releases from custody, and vaccination protocols are reviewed, improved, and enacted at detention facilities to ensure robust protections for those that remain detained.”
The Democrats said HHS and ICE have not provided clear enough guidance as to any plans to redetain the released individuals as case numbers continue to fall.
The lack of clarity has caused the formerly detained people to “continue to live with the constant fear of re-detention,” they said.
“The overwhelming majority of these individuals are now living safely at home with their families, with clear improvements to their health,” the lawmakers wrote.
“They are now providing valuable support to their communities and loved ones, in compliance with the terms of their release, posing no danger to the community.”
ICE said that its medical staff tests people for the virus prior to their release and counsels them on federal health guidelines, according to The Washington Post.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody,” spokeswoman Paige Hughes said in a statement in March. “In these particular instances, ICE had no legal authority to continue detention for the individuals referenced.”
Immigrants have flooded the border since Democrat Joe Biden became president and reversed many of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
In April, Customs and Border Protection data showed that there were 162,000 encounters with migrants.
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