Washington, DC — Today, Detention Watch Network (DWN) and immigrant rights advocates from across the country are joining in a national day of action calling on their elected officials to demand Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) release all people from immigration detention now. Today’s action follows the death of Carlos Escobar-Mejia last week at the Otay Mesa Detention Center due to the coronavirus and the breaking news of . ICE is reporting over 900 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in detention centers, and the number is believed to be larger as people in detention are reporting symptoms without access to testing. Today’s action will be the first in a series of national days of action taking place over the next month.
“People are in imminent danger in ICE detention,” said Bárbara Suarez Galeano, Organizing Director of Detention Watch Network. “This was true before coronavirus and has only exacerbated as it continues to spread. We call on elected officials to champion the call to release people from immigration detention and get people out now. COVID-19 has exposed the problems endemic to immigration detention and why this deadly and dangerous system needs to be dismantled.”
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus called on ICE to release people from detention on March 31 and on March 19 San Francisco’s Public Defender’s office sent a letter to ICE saying: “Immigration & Customs Enforcement must use its humanitarian parole authority to immediately release all civil detainees at held at the Yuba County Jail and Mesa Verde Detention Facility.”
Despite the growing efforts calling for release since March, many elected officials have remained silent on the issue of immigration detention during the pandemic, ignoring their commitment to immigrant communities and with little to no follow up to hold ICE accountable.
ICE’s shameful record of medical negligence, poor sanitation, and demonstrated inability to respond to past infectious disease outbreaks is detailed in the Detention Watch Network report, Courting Catastrophe: How ICE is Gambling with Immigrant Lives Amid a Global Pandemic. People in detention have underscored these issues endemic to the detention system by protesting and speaking out to be released immediately, including participating in a growing number of hunger strikes nationwide.
DWN members participating in the national day of action offered the following statements:
Pedro Rios, Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program in California, said:
“We are saddened and outraged about the recent death of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia. We hold ICE responsible for this preventable death. Our state and federal elected officials need to do more to hold ICE accountable for this death and for their disgraceful treatment of those in detention. The only reasonable and humane response at this moment is for everyone detained to be released.”
Bethany Carson, Immigration Policy Researcher and Organizer of Grassroots Leadership in Texas said:
“Every cage is a crisis; the lives of thousands of immigrants and the health of our communities are at risk every day people are locked away. Elected officials at every level must act immediately to prevent more deaths by releasing everyone from detention and hold ICE accountable for its cruelty and negligence.”
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 www.detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow @DetentionWatch.