The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is adjusting its enforcement operations in response to the ongoing outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus — formally known as COVID-19 — and will focus on those foreign nationals who pose threats to public safety or have criminal records.
"ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) will focus enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds," the agency announced Wednesday, adding that the changes would be effective immediately. "For those individuals who do not fall into those categories, ERO will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate."
None of the agency's detainees had tested positive for the virus as of Wednesday, a government spokesperson told The Hill.
The announcement also says that DHS' investigative arm, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), would "continue to carry out mission critical criminal investigations and enforcement operations as determined necessary to maintain public safety and national security." Examples of these essential operations include "investigations into child exploitation, gangs, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, human smuggling," and counterterrorism efforts.
When it comes to where remaining enforcement operations will be conducted during the ongoing public health crisis, ICE says that "individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement."
Citing its "sensitive locations policy" the agency says that officers "will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors' offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances."
The change comes after news reports this week detailed how ICE officers have continued with immigration arrests during the outbreak.
KMGH-TV reported Wednesday morning that immigration officials in Denver had made at least two arrests in the past week.
An L.A. Times story published Tuesday described immigration officials going to work "on a most unusual of days: the day after the California governor and L.A. mayor ordered people to ramp up their efforts of social distancing over the coronavirus."
"We're out here trying to protect the public by getting these criminal aliens off the street and out of our communities," ICE's ERO director in Los Angeles, David Marin, told the newspaper. "Asking us to stop doing that basically gives those criminals another opportunity to maybe commit more crimes, to create more victims."