DHS Officials Refuse to Release Asylum Seekers and Other Non-Violent Detainees Despite Spread of Coronavirus

Apr 17, 2020
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (Apr. 17, 2020)—Today, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Matthew T. Albence and Acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Mark Morgan briefed the Committee on Oversight and Reform on how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is addressing coronavirus risks in immigration detention facilities.

 

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee, issued the following statement:

 

“The Trump Administration faces a stark choice:  save lives by releasing asylum seekers and other nonviolent immigrants who never should have been locked up in the first place, or aggravate the spread of coronavirus in detention centers.  Today, Administration officials told our Committee they have chosen to continue detaining thousands of immigrants who came to our country to escape persecution or torture, have no criminal records, and are not flight risks.”

 

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, issued the following statement:

 

“That briefing left me more troubled—not less—about the Trump Administration’s cavalier indifference to the human suffering caused by this runaway plague on our land.  ICE continues to unnecessarily detain thousands of non-violent immigrants locked up in holding facilities that are rampant breeding grounds for transmission of the coronavirus.  ICE confirmed it has no plans to release any more detainees.  It confirmed that its testing of detainees and staff is as sporadic and flawed as the federal government’s overall approach to public testing.  This is a dangerous situation for detainees and staff alike.  Nursing homes and cruise ships show how this virus can cut a path like wildfire through close quarters.  The time to act to save lives is right now.”

 

Below are key takeaways from today’s briefing:

 

  • Refusal to Release Thousands of Nonviolent Immigrants.

Acting Director Albence stated that “our review of our existing population has been completed” and that ICE does not plan to release any other detainees to slow the spread of coronavirus in detention facilities.  ICE has released fewer than 700 vulnerable individuals and is continuing to detain more than 32,000 men and women.  More than 5,500 of these detainees have established that they fled persecution or torture, and more than 14,000 have no criminal convictions or pending criminal charges. 

  • Deficient Testing of Detainees Despite Increasing Outbreaks.

ICE publicly confirmed that 105 detainees and 25 employees in at least 29 detention centers now have coronavirus.  However, Acting Director Albence revealed today that only 400 detainees have been tested.  Although many more detainees were exposed and need testing, Mr. Albence stated that ICE has a limited number of tests and that “we would certainly do more testing” if additional test kits were available.  Mr. Albence also confirmed that ICE does not routinely test detainees before deporting them. 

DHS Claims That Detention During Pandemic is a Necessary Deterrent.

Acting Director Albence asserted that releasing non-violent immigrants to protect them from being infected and sickened with coronavirus could give the impression that the Administration is “not enforcing our immigration laws,” which would be a “huge pull factor” and create a “rush at the borders.”

 

On March 11, 2020, Chairwoman Maloney and Chairman sent a letter requesting the Department’s plans to prevent an outbreak in its detention facilities. 

 

On April 7, 2020, Chairwoman Maloney and Chairman Raskin sent a letter calling on DHS to release non-violent detainees to minimize the spread of the disease. 

 

Since then, the number of confirmed cases in ICE custody has increased five-fold, with hundreds more exposed to the virus.

116th Congress