Arizona Democrats Join Call for ICE to Release Families Amid COVID-19

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A handful of Arizona officials have joined 80 House Democrats and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in demanding that the Trump administration “safely and swiftly” release children and adults held in immigration detention centers due to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.


The group sent a letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Matthew T. Albence following an order from a federal judge on June 26 saying that all children who have been detained for more than 20 days at three facilities should be released.


“We write to you to urge you to safely and swiftly release all parents and children that are detained at the Karnes County Residential Center (“Karnes”), the South Texas Family Residential Center (“Dilley”), and the Berks County Residential Center (“Berks”)—the three Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) facilities that detain family units with their children—by July 17, 2020,” the letter reads.


Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (CD-2) announced her addition to the call for family release in a press release yesterday.


“I have worked with my congressional colleagues to formally address our various concerns with ICE, and we have largely been ignored,” Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “I have been raising these issues and communicating with local leaders, advocacy groups, and through my platforms–separating families, and having people detained in COVID infected facilities is horrendous. The reports from migrant detention facilities are becoming increasingly alarming and we need people to know what is happening. We must demand more accountability and oversight, ICE must commit to family unity, investigate the treatment and facility condition complaints and comply with CDC guidelines, or people will die in these facilities.”


Kirkpatrick is joined by fellow Arizona representatives Ruben Gallego (CD-7), Greg Stanton (CD-9) and Raúl Grijalva (CD-3).


“Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Members of Congress, advocates, attorneys, and doctors have continuously urged ICE to use its authority to release detained families,” the letter reads. “Instead of releasing families, ICE has used the pandemic to implement cruel and inhumane policies toward immigrants. For example, in May, following another order from Judge Gee that required ICE conduct individualized release assessments for children in detention-the agency asked detained parents to sign documents without counsel present, leading those parents to believe they were forced to choose between indefinite detention with their children, and the release of their children alone, without them.”


Read the full text of the letter below:

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Albence:

We write to you to urge you to safely and swiftly release all parents and children that are detained at the Karnes County Residential Center (“Karnes”), the South Texas Family Residential Center (“Dilley”), and the Berks County Residential Center (“Berks”)—the three Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) facilities that detain family units with their children—by July 17, 2020.

On Friday, June 26, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Judge Dolly Gee of the United States District Court of the Central District of California ordered ICE to release all children who have been detained for more than twenty days at Karnes, Dilley, and Berks by July 17, 2020. Flores v. Barr, 2:85-cv-4544-DMGAGR (C.D. Cal. June 26, 2020). Medical experts have continuously warned that detention increases the risk of transmission of the virus among detained individuals and facility staff. As Judge Gee observed, these facilities are now “on fire” due to ICE’s failure to ensure “the basics,” such as adequate social distancing, masking, and testing, and because of COVID-19 outbreaks in each facility’s surrounding area. Flores, at 3. ICE has confirmed that at least 11 children and adults and one GEO employee who works at Karnes, and at least two ICE officials and three CoreCivic employees who work at Dilley, have tested positive for COVID-19.

Just last week, three Members of Congress visited the ICE family detention center in Dilley and spoke with at least six families who are currently detained. After the visit, the Members of Congress raised concerns about the unsafe conditions they witnessed, and the need to immediately release families amid the pandemic. Despite the heightened precautions taken at the Dilley facility during the visit, the Members of Congress who toured the facility were exposed to an ICE officer who tested positive for COVID-19 mere days after the Congressional visit.

Since the COVID-19 crisis started, Members of Congress, advocates, attorneys, and doctors have continuously urged ICE to use its authority to release detained families. Instead of releasing families, ICE has used the pandemic to implement cruel and inhumane policies toward immigrants. For example, in May, following another order from Judge Gee that required ICE conduct individualized release assessments for children in detention, the agency asked detained parents to sign documents without counsel present, leading those parents to believe they were forced to choose between indefinite detention with their children, and the release of their children alone, without them.

We know the Administration has a history of separating thousands of children from their parents. Family separation should never be this country’s policy. Medical organizations have long stated that the practice creates extraordinary harm to children. Detention of children for any amount of time, even with their parents, causes 2 physical harm and irreparable trauma. We call upon ICE to act with compassion and release families together. These families have relatives and sponsors who are immediately available to provide them with care so that they may shelter-in-place.

The Administration must stop using this public health crisis as a means for implementing unlawful and inhumane immigration policies. In these extraordinary times, human suffering need not be compounded through traumatizing and instilling fear in the hearts of migrant parents. ICE has long had the authority and discretion to swiftly and safely release families together into the U.S. and should act to do so immediately. Once these families are free from detention, together, we urge ICE to commit to a permanent policy of family unity and to seek alternatives to family detention– including release on recognizance or community-driven support - in every case.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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