Representative García Presses Trump Administration to Protect Immigrants in Detention Centers from COVID-19

March 23, 2020
Press Release

Chicago, IL – Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García joined five House Democrats in pressing the Trump Administration to take “swift and immediate action” to protect people in immigration detention centers and immigrant communities from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter addressed to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolff,  García – joined by U.S. Representatives Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), and Adam Smith (D-WA) – outlined a number of actions the Administration needs to take to preserve public health for all people. 

“Immigrants continue to be held in detention centers with inadequate access to health care and in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions that will inevitably lead to deadly consequences,” said Rep. García. Communities are only safe if we ensure all people, including immigrants, are safe and have access to treatment and testing. By erecting barriers to treatment and testing as well as keeping immigrants in unsafe, inhumane detention centers, this Administration places everyone at greater risk.”

“In times of a public health crisis, it is imperative that we protect the most vulnerable and remove barriers to care for all, including fears of enforcement that prevent immigrant communities from seeking care,” wrote the lawmakers. “For people detained in detention facilities, they are completely dependent on the government for their conditions and medical care and we must ensure we are able to keep them safe.  For all immigrants, we should ensure they do not prioritize fulfilling their government mandated, court-related requirements over following public health recommendations to stay home or practice social distancing.”

In their letter, the lawmakers urged DHS to:

  • Place a moratorium on immigration arrests for people who pose no significant public safety risk to further reduce the detention population.
  • Notify all parties that may have been exposed to any individual who has been infected with coronavirus through contact with any DHS employee or exposure in any DHS facility.
  • Immediately heed the advice of public health experts and release as many immigrants as possible from detention.
  • Prioritize releasing those over 50 and those with underlying health conditions who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, so as to avoid a public health catastrophe for those who are detained and the broader community.
  • Take immediate steps to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak in immigration detention facilities, where immigrants are held in extremely close quarters contrary to public health guidelines.
  • Issue formal, proactive and explicit public communication to ensure immigration deadlines and practices are excused or relaxed for the period that a public health emergency is in effect in a particular locality or state.
  • Uphold our humanitarian commitment to asylum seekers presenting themselves at the border by instituting additional health screenings for asylum seekers, including individuals currently subject to the Migrant Protection Protocol.
  • Reconsider the implementation of the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds final rule.

The full text of today’s letter is available here.

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