Law360 is providing free access to its coronavirus coverage to make sure all members of the legal community have accurate information in this time of uncertainty and change. Use the form below to sign up for any of our weekly newsletters. Signing up for any of our section newsletters will opt you in to the weekly Coronavirus briefing.
Law360 (June 9, 2021, 6:01 PM EDT) —
Dozens of lawmakers urged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to refrain from redetaining people who were released from immigration detention for COVID-19 concerns, saying Wednesday it was “unacceptable” to use the “nation’s recovery” to justify their renewed detention.
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and acting ICE Director Tae Johnson, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and several of her colleagues called on the officials to create a clear policy on redetention, saying that former detainees constantly fear redetention as virus rates fall in the country.
Throughout the pandemic, individuals have been especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 in the “congregate settings” of detention, the lawmakers said, citing government reports that more than 16,000 detainees contracted the virus over the past year.
Amid reports of detention center virus outbreaks, federal judges nationwide ordered ICE to release thousands of people in its custody, with one judge directing ICE to continually review and release immigrants with serious, preexisting health conditions. On top of these orders, ICE has voluntarily released immigrants from detention, the lawmakers said.
“The overwhelming majority of these individuals are now living safely at home with their families, with clear improvements to their health. They are now providing valuable support to their communities and loved ones, in compliance with the terms of their release, posing no danger to the community,” the lawmakers said, but they “continue to live with the constant fear of redetention by ICE.”
They said that ICE has taken an “inconsistent” stance on whether it would redetain these former detainees. The agency has alternated between agreeing not to redetain people who escaped detention through court order and staying silent on the issue. And in some cases, ICE has “actively argued” for redetention, citing growing vaccine availability and decreasing infection rates, according to the letter.
“Re-detaining individuals solely as a result of our nation’s recovery from the pandemic is unacceptable,” the lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers on Wednesday also called on the officials to ensure detainees get vaccinated and that they continue to release people from custody.
“These steps are vital to fulfilling your obligations to protect the health and safety of people in ICE custody, ICE staff, and the families who live in the communities where ICE detention centers exist,” they said.
ICE declined Wednesday requests for comment.
–Editing by Daniel King.
For a reprint of this article, please contact [email protected].