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WASHINGTON – As our country grapples with its systemic racism, over-policing, and unlawful police killings of Black people, it’s critical to highlight that the immigration detention system, too, harms and punishes Black and brown immigrants disproportionately. Leading up to World Refugee Day today, more than two dozen human rights, immigrant rights, and civil rights advocates along with service providers have launched a series of actions designed to advocate for people seeking safety and the release of immigrants and asylum-seekers from immigrant detention centers. As cases of COVID-19 continue to increase in states where people are being held in immigration detention, particularly states such as Texas and Louisiana, it is critical that immediate action is taken to keep them safe. 

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to endanger people trapped in detention, putting them at high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the crowded conditions and ICE’s record of medical abuse and neglect. 

  • ICE has failed to provide detained people with soap and sanitizer, failed to allow for social distancing, and continues to transfer people between facilities, increasing the risk of spreading the virus.  
  • In family detention centers, ICE recently forced parents to choose between ongoing detention or separation from their children rather than use its discretion to release those families to loved ones and sponsors. 
  • From the start of the pandemic through June 12, 2020, ICE Air has flown approximately 2,200 flights, both abroad and domestically. Of those, about 415 were deportation flights to countries that are ill-equipped to handle medical emergencies. Many of the people deported have tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in countries such as Guatemala and Haiti.        

The continued refusal by federal authorities to use discretion to release people from immigration detention, are clear violations of human rights and civil rights, imperiling social justice and public health.  The groups are calling on ICE to release individuals and families in detention and on governors to urge ICE to immediately and substantially reduce occupancy in their states’ facilities that detain immigrants and asylum-seekers. 

The days of action represent an increasing level of pressure on officials from human rights, immigrant rights, and civil rights advocates and service providers to urge governors and state-level health officials to act. Instead of safely releasing them, ICE continues to detain individuals in conditions conducive to the spread of COVID-19, even in detention centers where staff and/or other detained people have already tested positive for COVID-19. To learn more about this effort and to access the toolkit for action click here.

The actions include:

June 18-19 Days of listening, learning, and action: A webinar, “Reenvisioning and Rebuilding the Immigration Justice Movement,” hosted by Haitian Bridge Alliance, Immigration Hub, and Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) was held on June 19th as a guided discussion about anti-Blackness in the immigration justice movement through policy and practice perspective.

A coalition of state and national organizations delivered 50,868 petition signatures to ICE calling for the release of people in their custody, and 4,399 petition signatures to six governors calling on them to take all possible actions to press ICE to release immigrants and asylum-seekers detained in their states. 

June 20: A day of community-building: Today on World Refugee Day, groups are sharing their support for immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers and all people seeking safety in their communities and on their social media accounts, uniting their efforts to #ProtectImmigrants. In Texas, Sueños Sin Fronteras and Texas Refugee And Immigrant Network (TRAIN) are leading a car rally at the Karnes County Family Detention Center, calling on the community to come together safely in their cars to show support and solidarity for people detained inside Karnes while honoring refugees worldwide. 

June 21: A day of letter-writing: On Father’s Day, the coalition will call upon their grassroots supporters to send a massive wave of letters to ICE officials and to governors who can exert pressure on ICE to release immigrants in their states. 

The coalition is also calling on Congress to advance and pass the Federal Immigration Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act introduced by Rep. Pramilia Jayapal (D-WA) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). The FIRST Act which would release individuals at-risk of contracting COVID-19, require a presumption of release to all other detained immigrants, require the provision of health, sanitary supplies and telephone access to individuals in custody, and require ICE to suspend civil immigration enforcement for the duration of the pandemic. 

A full list of participating groups can be found here

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