Fearing coronavirus spread, advocates urge ICE to release detainees

March 20, 2020
Austin-American Statesman

Texas immigrant advocates are calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to release detainees, especially medically vulnerable immigrants, from detention facilities to await their hearings in a safe place as the new coronavirus continues to spread.

“These detention facilities often provide substandard medical care, and that’s under the best of circumstances,” said Rebecca Lightsey, executive director of American Gateways, which provides legal help to low-income immigrants throughout Central Texas. “To keep vulnerable people, most of whom have no criminal history, locked up in close quarters without access to treatment or testing for the virus is inhumane.”

She said she hopes the government moves soon to release at-risk detainees to family members or others who can maintain social distance until the crisis passes.

ICE officials last week said there are no detainees with confirmed cases of COVID-19; however, a medical staffer at Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey on Thursday tested positive for the coronavirus. The agency has temporarily suspended social visitation in all of its detention facilities, including the 31 in Texas.