Advocates take action across the country demanding people be released from ICE detention while calling attention to a rise of protests inside detention

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, May 28, 2020

Washington, DC — Today, Detention Watch Network and organizations representing immigrant communities from across the country took action calling for all people to be released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention. The day of action follows a number of protests by people in detention demanding to be released over growing concerns of coronavirus infection.

“DWN members are taking action today to demonstrate the urgent need to release all people from detention while amplifying the courageous protests people inside detention are taking,” said Bárbara Suarez Galeano, Organizing Director at Detention Watch Network. “From hunger strikes to work stoppages and more, people in detention are courageously protesting and speaking out to be released. COVID-19 has exacerbated a system well-known for widespread abuse, fatal medical neglect and horrific conditions—lives are at risk. We stand in solidarity with people in detention and will continue to call for an end to this inhumane and unnecessary system.”

Since March 2020, nearly 2,000 people in detention have participated in COVID-19 related hunger strikes in facilities nationwide. In addition to demanding to be released, people in detention have also revealed the complete lack of sanitation measures as the deadly virus continues to spread — ICE is currently reporting over 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in detention, roughly 50 percent of the number of tests they’ve conducted thus far. Advocates anticipate this number to be larger due to a lack of testing.

Actions took place in NY, CA, WA, VA, NM where advocates participated in car rallies outside of detention centers and funeral processions. Actions are detailed below:

New York City, New York: Families for Freedom led a body bag drop outside of the New York Field office at 26 Federal Plaza. Melinda Samuel, a member of Families for Freedom said:

“ICE keeps lying while detained folks are dying. Detention centers are like a petri dish for COVID-19 and to add more misery, they are still deporting people to countries where health resources are limited. They need to free them all."

Adelanto, California: Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice led a car rally outside of the Adelanto ICE Processing Center. Lizbeth Abeln, Detention Abolition Coordinator, said:

“ICE continues to lie and retaliate against people detained who speak up and resist their harmful tactics. Just last week we submitted a complaint to DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, detailing the horrific reports we’ve been getting from inside the center; ICE is using toxic chemicals, in response to hunger strikers,  to “sanitize” the facility, detrimental to the health of everyone inside. ICE is incapable of caring for our communities, they need to release everyone immediately.”

Tacoma, Washington: La Resistencia led a honk-in car rally and art installation outside of the Northwest Detention Center. Maru Mora Villalpando, community organizer, said:

“While people detained and their loved ones dare speak up either by going on hunger strikes, doing work stoppages, staging a distress call with tier own bodies in the yard, and sending videos and audios showing the truth of being detained while a global pandemic occurs, ICE keeps lying. We demand local elected officials to take people’s lives seriously and do everything they can to force ICE to release everyone in their custody. It’s time to stop believing ICE, and stop a tragedy from happening before it’s too late.”

Fairfax, VA: La ColectiVA and Sanctuary DMV led a petition delivery at Senator Warner’s office. Shamaal Sheppard, from LaColectiVA said:

“We are taking action in solidarity with people inside Virginia’s immigrant detention centers, and echoing their demands to be released back into our communities. Our petition delivery urges elected representatives in Virginia to publicly demand that ICE officials release people in detention. The safety and health of people in detention, and their families, are placed at an even higher risk considering the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the responsibility of our Senators, Governors, and Representatives to protect these lives and not stand complicit with the violence experienced in detention. We will continue until they are all freed.”

Santa Fe, New Mexico: Santa Fe Dreamers Project and Millions for Prisoners led a honk-in car rally. Sylvia Johnson, Creative Director of Santa Fe Dreamers Project, said:

“We are taking action to amplify the voices of the courageous people behind the walls.  COVID-19 has exposed the abuses of a system that were present before this pandemic, including horrific conditions and medical neglect. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the detention facilities have become literal death traps and the safest thing to do for both those on the inside and the rural communities where these facilities are based is to immediately test and release people. We will continue to act in solidarity and call for the urgent release of people being detained and imprisoned.”

Stephonaé Nelson of Millions for Prisoners, said:

“The abuses happening behind the walls are egregious. Being denied basic sanitary products, being held in close corners in the midst of a deadly pandemic - those are reasons for all of us to protest. People who are incarcerated are speaking out, and it’s critically important that we support them so that they don’t experience retaliation.” 

San Diego, California: American Friends Service Committee of San Diego coordinated with other advocates on a statewide call-in and twitter-storm action on Governor Gavin Newsom. Pedro Rios, director of AFSC’s US-Mexico Border Program, said:

"In the face of inaction by ICE and their contracted profiteers, we join our statewide partners in calling Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate the deplorable conduct by private contractors that are profiting off of human suffering and have allowed for the surge in COVID-19 cases at immigration prisons.  The deaths of Carlos Escobar Mejia and Choung Woong Ahn were preventable, and they are a harbinger of what will follow if our government officials side with the Trump administration in concluding that detained migrants are expendable lives during a pandemic."


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit Follow @DetentionWatch.