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Former DHS Officials Discuss COVID-19 and its Impact on Immigrants

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A recording of the call is available here

 Earlier today, former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials gathered on a press call to discuss the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the immigrant community. DHS has largely prioritized the President’s tough stance against immigrants and immigration over measures to protect the health of immigrants and the broader American public. Despite warnings from public health experts, DHS has failed to act to reduce the number of immigrants held in crowded and unsafe detention centers and has continued to pursue restrictions and deportation actions. In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, DHS needs to act now to protect immigrants and the broader American public as the virus exacerbates the underlying issues in a flawed immigration system.

Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former USCIS Chief Counsel, said:

If it’s not incompetence at managing the incredible resources of the federal government, it’s ideology holding the Trump administration back from being able to protect the country in this public health emergency.  Every public health expert over the last month has said that for the safety of immigrants in detention, the staff working there, and every community member who will come into contact with staff, it is critical that ICE release as many immigrants from detention as possible.  Yet, ICE continues to push back.  At the same time, ICE continues some of its activities that could add to the detention population and puts agents and the American public at risk.  At USCIS, the agency seems paralyzed to take appropriate, swift and decisive action to protect thousands of immigrants on the front lines of this pandemic from falling out of status and deportation — from doctors, nurses, and janitors in hospitals to food supply and construction workers and so many others.  While USCIS has taken some steps, so much more is required to protect the nation at this critical time.

Leon Rodriguez, former Director of USCIS and Partner, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, said:

At a time when so many immigrants are making it possible for us to shelter safely — working in hospitals, delivering food, keeping communication channels operational — our immigration benefit system needs to take the simple step of extending deadlines during the duration of the national emergency.  Such a step protects government workers, U.S. citizens and all others who could find themselves in the path of infection.

John Sandweg, former Acting Director of ICE and director of the Cross-Border Risks team at Nixon Peabody LLP, said:

I want to talk about the detention centers — this is a public health issue, not just a detainee issue. Every day thousands of people are entering, working and residing in these facilities, and by nature they are incredibly vulnerable to infectious disease. Social distancing is virtually impossible due to limited space and high numbers of people. You have workers, ICE contractors and others who must enter the facility and therefore have a high risk of exposure. There’s a significant risk they bring that virus home and infect their family, increasing the chance of community spread.

There’s an easy way to mitigate risk: you shrink the population of detainees. It’s easier to shrink ICE populations than it is to do so at state and federal jails, because you don’t have to have committed a crime to be put in ICE detention. There are easy ways to track those released and ensure that they show up to court dates. There is only one way to eradicate outbreaks, and that is to shrink the population. It makes little sense to me that ICE has not already done so.