As reports show at least 35 detainees in detention centres in 5 states have become infected and officials warn the facilities could be “a tinderbox”, Democrats announced legislation that would suspend all arrests that were not deemed vital to public safety.
The legislation would also see many of those currently held in government detention facilities, especially those deemed most at risk of becoming infected, released into the community.
“We are in the midst of a public health and economic crisis that has upended all of our daily lives and we’ve seen unprecedented losses of lives and livelihoods,” said congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the sponsor of the legislation in the House of Representatives.
“We’ve been following public health guidelines by staying home and practising physical distance distancing, and hopefully, emotional closeness. And of course frequently washing our hands. But for immigrants and particularly those who are held in detention centres, following these guidelines can be almost impossible.”
Ms Jayapal, a leading progressive within the Democratic Party and who represents Washington state’s 7th congressional district, added: “We responsibility as a federal government to these folks who depend on the government literally for everything in their lives to protect immigrants by removing them from these dangerous detention centres, preventing the detention of those in our communities, and ensuring that those who do remain in detention have access to what they need to stay healthy.”
In introducing what they is termed the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act, Ms Jayapal was joined in a livestreamed press conference by New Jersey senator and one-time presidential candidate, Cory Booker.
This week it was reported that at least 16 people in New Jersey in the custody of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, also referred to as ICE, had been tested positive for coronavirus. Ms Jayapal said the agency’s own experts had said the conditions inside such facilities were a potential “tinderbox” for the spread of the disease.
Mr Booker said continuing to hold people who were not a threat to public safety inside such centres during the crisis, was also threatening thy health of people who worked there, and their families.
“This is indeed a matter of life or death,” he said.
“It’s a question of will our country that believes in ideals, like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, believes that everyone is born with inalienable rights. We must make sure our immigration policies, reflect those values and affirm the dignity and well being of all people in crisis. We don’t abandon our values, we as a nation we double down on them.”
Under the legislation all detainees over the age of 50, under the age of 21 and those deemed of particular risk, would be released into community supervision. Ms Jayapal said the vast majority of people had not been accused of crime, let alone convicted of one.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies