Advocates Urge DOJ to Stop Migrant Prosecutions During COVID-19 Pandemic

March 24, 2020

Criminal justice organization Grassroots Leadership, along with civil rights group Mijente and over 150 immigration, civil rights and faith-based advocacy groups, on March 24 sent a joint letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr asking for immediate immigration policy changes in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. According to an emailed statement from Mijente, the groups asked the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to halt the arrests, referrals and criminal prosecution of migrants, to close “Operation Streamline” courts, and to drop existing charges in all districts. 

The letter states:

We call on the Department of Justice to immediately enact the following changes in all districts:

1. Work with CBP, ICE, and U.S. Marshals to end arrests and criminal referrals for unauthorized entry (8 USC 1325) and unauthorized reentry (8 USC 1326);

2. Decline all new criminal prosecutions for unauthorized entry (8 USC 1325) and unauthorized reentry (8 USC 1326);

3. Immediately halt Operation Streamline magistrate courts at the southern border;

4. Drop all charges for unauthorized entry (8 USC 1325) and unauthorized reentry (8 USC 1326) and prioritize release of those currently being held on such charges; and

5. Agree to re-sentence people held in BOP or private prisons on entry or reentry offenses.

Claudia Muñoz, acting co-Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership, said in a statement that it would be a grave mistake for the DOJ to avoid taking necessary precautions right away. “Criminal charging and locking up migrants is always dangerous. In a time of a pandemic, it is not only dangerous, it also may be deadly,” she said. “Reducing the number of people who are unnecessarily locked up is a pressing public health issue, and these recommendations will go a long way towards that goal.”