Two leading House Democrats are calling on the Department of Homeland Security to immediately release most illegal immigrants from detention.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) wrote acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and acting ICE Director Matthew Albence on Tuesday demanding the release of nonviolent immigrants in U.S. custody.
The lawmakers cited fears that coronavirus will rapidly spread inside overcrowded immigrant detention facilities.
"The Department must take swift action to decrease the detainee population to prevent further spread of this disease," the lawmakers wrote.
"In light of recent reports of detainees and staff testing positive at multiple detention centers, the high risk of further outbreaks in the near future, and the lack of adequate medical staff and equipment, we call on you to immediately release non-violent detainees, prioritizing those who are at higher risk for complications from coronavirus," they continued. "Releasing these non-violent detainees will prevent the unnecessary infection, sickness, and death of the men and women who work in these facilities and those who are detained."
According to Maloney and Raskin, 19 immigrants detained at six detention centers across the U.S. have so far contracted COVID-19, along with seven facility staff members.
More than 35,000 immigrants are being detained across the United States at the end of March, Roll Call reported.
ICE has already released at least 160 immigrants from detention who were at risk of contracting COVID-19. And according to Roll Call, the agency has identified 600 others who are at higher risk for contracting the virus.
Still, immigrant releases will be evaluated on a case-by-case nature, the agency said.
"Due to the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is reviewing cases of individuals in detention who may be vulnerable to the virus," an ICE spokesperson told Roll Call. "Utilizing CDC guidance along with the advice of medical professionals, ICE may place individuals in a number of alternatives to detention options.