Stop Deporting COVID-19 (OPINION)

Just recently, villagers in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala nearly succeeded in burning alive a group of immigrants who were deported from the United States with COVID-19 infections. These immigrants should never have been forcibly deported with a potentially deadly virus to a fragile country with an underdeveloped public health system. Yet, immigration officials are stubbornly conducting business as usual, detaining and deporting immigrants in the midst of a global pandemic.

The truth is that our broken immigration system can’t handle the coronavirus.

In many immigration facilities, individuals are detained in large dormitory-style rooms littered with bunk-beds. The detention conditions are life-threatening with reports of limited, if any, soap, disinfectant, sanitizer or toilet paper. These conditions create tinderboxes waiting to be lit with the deadly coronavirus. Immigrants are literally trapped as guards and nurses report confirmed COVID-19 infections.

Instead of coming out in front of this public health crisis by voluntarily considering the humanitarian release of immigrants who cannot be safely kept in these dangerous conditions, immigration officials are actively fighting against measures that would protect immigrants and communities at large. The humanitarian release of individuals from immigration detention would allow them to quarantine and shelter at home.

To be clear, immigrants are not being detained pursuant to a criminal conviction. They are in civil detention awaiting the completion of immigration proceedings. Immigration officials have significant discretion to release detained immigrants, and regularly use alternatives to detention to maintain custody and control over non-citizens in immigration proceedings, such as supervised release, electronic ankle monitors, home confinement, and telephonic monitoring. But federal officials are reluctant to consider detention alternatives even for the most vulnerable immigrants with medical conditions that heighten their risk for COVID-19 infection, illness, and death. In this public health crisis, regardless of our citizenship status, this bureaucratic inflexibility makes us all unsafe.

By Iván Espinoza-Madrigal for LATINO REBELS
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