Human Rights First Endorses Legislation to Release Detained Immigrants, Halt Immigration Enforcement During Pandemic

On April 13, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) introduced the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act, which would direct Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to move immigrants out of crowded detention centers and halt immigration enforcement during the coronavirus emergency. So far, ICE has refused to act to meaningfully reduce the population of immigrants in detention centers, putting immigrants including asylum seekers and the public at risk of COVID-19.

Human Rights First, which has repeatedly called on the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and even the governors of states where immigrants are held, emphatically endorses the FIRST Act and hopes Congress will move quickly to pass it and protect immigrants waiting to be processed by our immigration courts. Human Rights First has also filed two lawsuits on behalf of 14 clients in immigration detention in California and New Jersey. To date, four have been ordered released

“We support this legislation to release immigrants from detention for their safety and the safety of the whole community,” said Jennifer Quigley, Director of refugee advocacy at Human Rights First. “We are grateful that Members of Congress are stepping in where the administration has utterly failed to act in the interest of immigrants and public health. The inaction of DHS, ICE and governors who could have used their influence has already led to infections inside ICE detention putting lives at risk. It is critical that immigrants – especially ones with health conditions – are released from crowded detention centers now and that immigration enforcement does not add more to their numbers.”

Full text of the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act, is available here. In addition to facilitating release from detention and suspending enforcement action, the bill would also aid access to counsel and family making telephone calls and video-conferencing available for detained immigrants without charge, and ensure that necessary hygiene products are provided to immigrants in detention. There are widespread reports that immigrants are not being provided soap, hand sanitizer or detergent. 

Human Rights First has documented the detrimental impact of detention on immigrants in New Jersey, which has the highest number of detainees that have tested positive. 

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