We are pleased to report that we are seeing some movement in this country to decarcerate individuals being held in our jails, prisons, and detention centers who are more susceptible to the dangerous and highly infectious coronavirus. Unfortunately, officials are not moving quickly enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in these spaces, especially in immigrant detention centers.
We are taking action today at the request of our leaders across the Gamaliel Network by sending the letter below to key officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Department of Justice. Our demand is clear; U.S. immigration officials must act immediately to:
- Release people who are at high risk of serious illness as outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control: people 60 and older; those with underlying health conditions including diabetes, heart and lung diseases; and people who are pregnant. These persons with serious health conditions are the most at risk in the current crisis. They need to be allowed to relocate to a safer place; and
- Suspend all ICE detentions, along with release to the community, all who are on ICE holds in county jails and in detention centers awaiting a decision on their status.
We invite you to join us in this effort to amplify our Network demand to decarcerate our immigrant sisters and brothers. On Wednesday, you are urged to participate in a national call-in day focused on reaching out to regional ICE directors. The instructions and script for taking action are available, in both English and Spanish, for download in the box on the right side of this message.
Commit now to taking action! Your calls can make a difference in the health and safety of all of our people!
Rev. Dr. John C. Welch,
Rev. David Bigsby, and
Ms. Ana Garcia-Ashley, Gamaliel
April 20, 2020
The Honorable Chad F. Wolf, Acting Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
301 7th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20528
The Honorable Matthew T. Albence, Deputy Director and Senior Official Acting as Director
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th Street SW Stop 5600
Washington, D.C. 20536
The Honorable Mark A. Morgan, Acting Commissioner
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20004
The Honorable James McHenry, Director, Executive Office for Immigration Review
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Re: Prioritizing public health and protecting vulnerable populations from COVID-19
Dear Acting Secretary Wolf, Deputy Director Albence, Acting Commissioner Morgan, and Director McHenry:
The Gamaliel Network, a nation-wide network of people of faith who are committed to securing racial and economic equity, joins everyone else in our nation and world in expressing concern for our public health, especially as it impacts the most vulnerable people among us.
We commend Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the recent announcement that 693 at-risk people will be released from immigrant detention as reported by Fox News on April 14, 2020. We believe, however, that in the interest of public health and saving human life many more detainees must be released, especially if they are only being incarcerated for minor civil violations and do not pose a real threat to society. These individuals do not deserve a potential death sentence resulting from the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
We recognize that the coronavirus threat is grave. We also recognize that people confined in detention centers are especially susceptible to the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19. In light of this we urge you to release detainees from immigration detention centers throughout the country. Cases of COVID-19 have already been reported in several detention centers including the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, CA, Pike County Correctional Facility, PA, and the Elizabeth Detention Center, NJ, putting hundreds, if not thousands, at risk for contracting this deadly virus. Releasing detainees so they can return to their homes and shelter in place with their loved one will help the ongoing state and national efforts to flatten the curve and save countless lives.
Here are some steps that can be taken IMMEDIATELY to lower both the risk and the consequences of a disastrous outbreak of COVID-19 in detention centers, including minimizing the number of hospitalizations and deaths that will result.
- The immediate release of people who are at high risk of serious illness as outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control: people 60 and older; those with underlying health conditions including diabetes, heart and lung diseases; and people who are pregnant. These persons with serious health conditions are the most at risk in the current crisis. They need to be allowed to relocate to a safer place.
- The immediate suspension of all ICE detentions, along with release to the community, all who are on ICE holds in county jails and in detention centers awaiting a decision on their status.
Finally, we ask that anyone who is released be given the generous opportunity to connect with family or close relationships who can take them in so that they do not have to risk homelessness or exposure to COVID-19. This final request is also in the interest of public safety given social distancing guidelines.
In this time of emergency, we must take aggressive and immediate steps to reduce the number of people being held in detention centers.
Seeking the health and safety of all people,
Rev. Dr. John C. Welch, Chair, Gamaliel Board of Directors
Rev. David Bigsby, Chair, Gamaliel Council of Presidents
Ms. Ana Garcia-Ashley, Executive Director, Gamaliel Network