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March 17, 2020

COVID-19 and Immigration Detention

March 17, 2020

Dear Governor:

As you address the public health challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, we (Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights First and Amnesty International USA) write to urge that you direct steps to immediately and drastically reduce occupancy in facilities detaining immigrants and asylum seekers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in your state, including federal immigration detention facilities and county and local jails and prisons. The release of these individuals from detention is both necessary and legally authorized. Detaining large numbers of men, women and children in immigration facilities or county and local jails and prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic not only places detained immigrants and staff at severe risk but also threatens the health and safety of the broader public.

One of the most critical steps you can take to immediately reduce the spread of COVID-19 is to use your public health and licensing authority to instruct federal immigration detention facilities and county and local jails and prisons to substantially reduce their detainee occupancy capacity. Indeed, the Trump Administration has now recommended that gatherings of ten or more be avoided.

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, the federal government and states are directing measures to reduce the spread of the disease to prevent countless deaths and the collapse of healthcare systems. These jails run the risk of becoming “incubators” for COVID-19, according to a physician specializing in healthcare issues in prisons and jails. Already it has been reported that a staff person at the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey may have exposed detainees and other staff to COVID-19. In addition, given the documented inadequacies of medical care and basic hygiene in immigration detention facilities, it is of vital importance for state public health authorities to address the state-wide risk posed by crowded immigration detention facilities.

The release of detained immigrants by ICE is already legally authorized under existing federal laws and regulations as detailed in our attached letter to the Department of Homeland Security.

Download and read the full letters:

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