Menendez Calls on DHS to Release Non-violent, At-Risk Detainees from ICE Custody

Menendez

Menendez Calls on DHS to Release Non-violent, At-Risk Detainees from ICE Custody

4 detainees in NJ test positive for COVID-19, putting more at risk

A majority of ICE detainees have no criminal convictions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is urging the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release non-violent detainees who pose no public safety threat amidst the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak with priority for those at greatest risk for contracting the coronavirus including seniors and those with underlying health issues.

At least four ICE detainees being held in New Jersey have tested positive for COVID-19: two cases at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack; one at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark; and one at the Hudson County Jail in Kearny.

“Close quarters in detention facilities pose a danger to the health of detainees, detention center employees and the public at large. Reducing the number of those in detention is necessary to fight community spread of the virus and save lives,” wrote Sen. Menendez to Acting DHS Secretary Wolf and Acting ICE Director Albence. “Given the unprecedented nature of this pandemic, public health and safety is best served by ICE reviewing detainee records and releasing all non-violent individuals who pose no significant threat to the public, prioritizing those at risk of significant health consequences should they become infected, including seniors; those with heart or lung disease, diabetes, or compromised immune systems; and pregnant detainees.”

The senator noted that 60 percent of the 38,000 detainees in ICE custody have zero criminal convictions and that thousands of them are asylum-seekers who have already “demonstrated a credible fear of being persecuted or tortured” should they be returned to their home country.  He also cited the opinion of a leading infectious disease expert that the available medical care and inadequate use of personal protective gear, among other factors, inside detention centers could make the current COVID-19 epidemic worse in the U.S.

“A number of community based alternatives to detention provide ICE with the ability to safely monitor immigrants as they await adjudication of their removal cases like the Family Case Management Program,” the senator continued.  “As we work together to manage this crisis and help reduce the potential outbreak in detention, I ask that you do what is best for the public health of the country and promptly release non-violent detainees who pose no public safety risk and the most vulnerable to this illness from ICE detention.”

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Albence:

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the country, putting millions at risk, I ask that you release non-violent detainees who pose no public safety threat and those at high risk of getting severely sick from the illness from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. Close quarters in detention facilities pose a danger to the health of detainees, detention center employees and the public at large.  Reducing the number of those in detention is necessary to fight community spread of the virus and save lives.

As you know, on March 24, a 31-year-old detainee in custody at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, NJ tested positive for COVID-19.[1] On March 26, 2020 a 52-year-old ICE detainee at a facility in Essex County, New Jersey tested positive for COVID-19.[2] Most recently, on March 30, 2020, ICE reported that two additional detainees in ICE custody at facilities in New Jersey tested positive.[3] ICE itself reported 33 cases of COVID-19 among its employees, 5 of whom work in detention facilities in New Jersey.[4]

Of the approximately 38,000 detainees in ICE custody, more than “60 percent of those detainees—22,936 people—do not have criminal convictions.”[5]  Thousands of these individuals are asylum-seekers, who have already demonstrated a credible fear of being persecuted or tortured if they are returned to their home country.   Given the unprecedented nature of this pandemic, public health and safety is best served by ICE reviewing detainee records and releasing all non-violent individuals who pose no significant threat to the public, prioritizing those at risk of significant health consequences should they become infected, including seniors; those with heart or lung disease, diabetes, or compromised immune systems; and pregnant detainees. 

As outlined by Professor Carlos Franco-Paredes, an Associate Professor of Medicine and expert in infectious diseases, “the treatment of immigrants inside detention centers which could make the current COVID-19 epidemic worse in the U.S. by having a high case fatality rate among detainees and potentially spreading the outbreak into the larger community.”[6] Professor Franco-Paredes notes that conditions inside detention facilities including “incomplete adherence to infection prevention protocols including the appropriate use of personal protective equipment is insufficient to contain the spread of this disease.”[7] Moreover, “the medical care available in DHS custody cannot properly accommodate the needs of patients should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 in an immigration detention facility.”[8]

A number of community based alternatives to detention provide ICE with the ability to safely monitor immigrants as they await adjudication of their removal cases like the Family Case Management Program. These alternatives are not only effective in ensuring immigrants appear for their court appointments, but they cost less.[9]

As we work together to manage this crisis and help reduce the potential outbreak in detention, I ask that you do what is best for the public health of the country and promptly release non-violent detainees who pose no public safety risk and the most vulnerable to this illness from ICE detention. Thank you for your consideration to this important matter.

Sincerely,

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