Democrats seek to ban ICE transfers linked to outbreaks of COVID-19

Democrats seek to ban ICE transfers linked to outbreaks of COVID-19
Supporters and family members urged ICE to release detainees in front of GEO-run Aurora ICE Processing Center in Aurora, Colorado. April 9, 2020.Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
  • New legislation would prohibit ICE from transferring immigrants between facilities.
  • In October, the US government admitted that detainee transfers have "contributed to outbreaks," according to an internal report obtained by BuzzFeed News.
  • At least 7,339 people detained by ICE have now tested positive for the coronavirus, eight of whom have died.

The US Department of Homeland Security concedes that moving people between immigration detention facilities only aids the spread of COVID-19, but in the run-up to the November election, it increased such transfers and new arrests, detaining people who had previously been released as part of an earlier effort to reduce inmate populations.

In October, DHS admitted that detainee transfers have "contributed to outbreaks," according to an internal report obtained by BuzzFeed News.

At least 7,339 people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement have now tested positive for the coronavirus, eight of whom have died, according to the agency. Now Democrats in Congress are looking to halt a practice that has contributed to outbreaks across the country.
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Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, said he's seen firsthand "how unnecessary detainee transfers between facilities can increase the risk of COVID-19 exposure."

At least 130 people have contracted the virus at ICE's Aurora Contract Detention Facility outside of Denver, with 39 currently in isolation. The facility is run by the for-profit prison company GEO, cases increasing there by 64% since September, The Denver Post reported; a GEO spokesperson said it is working to "implement best practices for the prevention, assessment, and management of COVID-19."

The new legislation, introduced by Crow and Reps. Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar, would prohibit transfers until the daily transmission rate in the US is at or below 1 per 1.5 million people for two weeks (over the past week, there has been an average of 105 new cases each day per 1.5 million people, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
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"If there are measures we can take to prevent the spread of the virus and protect our health, we should take them," Crow said Friday.

Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate earlier this fall. In its most recent report, the advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants noted that ICE enforcement activity had increased last month, "resulting in more book-ins to ICE detention, as well as several instances in which people released from ICE custody earlier in the pandemic were re-detained during routine ICE check-ins."
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As of November 19, over 16,690 people are currently detained by ICE, down from a daily average of more than 50,000 in 2019.

"ICE transfers are deadly and irresponsible," Sarah Gardiner, policy director at Freedom for Immigrants, said Friday.

"A moratorium on transfers during the COVID-19 pandemic—combined with policies that echo the demands of the movement to #FreeThemAll— is necessary to save lives," she said, "as the current administration continues to recklessly act in a manner that is increasing COVID-19 transmission rates for all, including immigrants."
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ICE did not immediately return a request for comment.

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