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Courtesy of Maloney's office

Queens Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney and Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin are calling for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to release non-violent detainees after they learned DHS has no serious plans to address overcrowding in detention facilities on Tuesday, April 7.

“In light of recent reports of detainees and staff testing positive at multiple detention centers, the high risk of further outbreaks in the near future, and the lack of adequate medical staff and equipment, we call on you to immediately release non-violent detainees, prioritizing those who are at higher risk for complications from coronavirus,” Maloney and Raskin wrote in their letter. “Releasing these non-violent detainees will prevent the unnecessary infection, sickness and death of the men and women who work in these facilities and those who are detained.”

Maloney, chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Raskin, chair of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter to DHS on March 11, initially seeking information on their plans to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus and free up sufficient space for effective quarantining.

They say DHS staff provided a briefing to committee staff on March 20 that “only exacerbated the committee’s concerns for the safety and well-being of detainees.”

They added that ICE officials conceded during their briefing with the committee that they have no contingency plan for coronavirus treatment if local hospitals become overwhelmed and cannot treat detainees.

“If an outbreak spreads from a facility into the community, it will exacerbate the strain on local hospitals since many detention centers are in rural areas with very little medical infrastructure,” wrote Maloney and Raskin.

Maloney and Raskin’s call comes a few weeks after more than 3,000 doctors called for the release of detainees who do not pose an immediate risk to public safety, noting the dangerous conditions in facilities where “detainees live in close quarters, with subpar infection control measures in place, and whose population represents some of the most vulnerable.”

In an op-ed for The Atlantic, former ICE Director John Sandweg recommended the release of migrant detainees, stressing that an outbreak in a detention facility poses a severe danger both to detainees and the communities where detention facilities are located. He warned an outbreak of COVID-19 could expose the hundreds of people working in ICE facilities to the virus.

“Once exposed, many of them will unknowingly take the virus home to their family and community,” Sandweg wrote.

“The department cannot continue to drag its feet in response to this crisis,” Maloney and Raskin wrote. “Now is the time to prevent an exponential increase in cases and deaths.”

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