Washington, DC — Today, House Democrats hosted a virtual forum on the “response” by Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) to the COVID-19 pandemic and current conditions in ICE detention. This hearing comes a week after the death of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, who was detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center, and after a federal judge, earlier this month, described ICE as acting with “deliberate indifference” to the condition of people detained in three south florida detention centers.
During the forum, Johannes Favi, a father of three who was recently released from ICE detention in Illinois as a result of a federal court ruling, told members of Congress: “I never thought the United States justice system could be this wrong. I think every day about the people who are still in detention who should not be there. They lost their jobs, their lives, they were separated from their children. Today I am given the opportunity to be their voice. Members of Congress, they are counting on you.”
Yesterday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced the HEROES Act, which would mandate that ICE conduct file reviews of every individual in custody and prioritize people not subject to mandatory detention for release. The Defund Hate coalition supports this first step toward freeing all people from detention camps.
Sanaa Abrar, Advocacy Director of United We Dream, said:
“Even in the middle of a pandemic, ICE continues to operate doing what they do best: terrorizing immigrants. In this pandemic, because of ICE’s history of abuse and medical neglect, detention only increases people’s risk of contracting COVID-19. During this hearing we heard from courageous people who had been previously detained by ICE or have loved ones currently incarcerated. Their testimony increases the demands from United We Dream that ICE release our people now and stop trapping people in these unsafe, unhealthy and inhumane detention camps.”
Gabriela Viera, Advocacy Associate of Detention Watch Network, said:
"With COVID-19, we are seeing problems endemic to immigration detention come to a head, like ICE’s fatally flawed medical care, unsanitary conditions that only worsen in times of crisis, and a complete lack of transparency. Today’s brave testimonies from people who have been detained underscore the culture of abuse and negligence that ICE perpetuates, while strengthening the call to #FreeThemAll. Thousands of doctors and advocates from across the country have been urgently sounding the alarm to release all people from detention since early March. ICE has repeatedly proven to be incapable of caring for people in its custody — this agency must be defunded."
Sarah Gardiner, Policy Director of Freedom for Immigrants, said:
“We have the opportunity today to hear from people directly impacted by an inhumane system that profits from abuse. The courage it takes to come forward and shine a light on the terrible conditions in these immigrant prisons must be matched by bold, swift legislative action. As COVID-19 rips through ICE detention, lives are on the line. We cannot afford to wait. ICE must #FreeThemAll. Congress must take immediate steps to defund detention in the name of public health.”
Pedro Rios, Director of the American Friends Service Committee’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program, said:
“We are saddened and outraged about the 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.”
Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, Washington Director of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, said:
“Even in the midst of a global pandemic and an unprecedented economic crisis, our country is spending more money than ever to lock up and deport immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. We must stop funding this system of detention which is causing deaths such as Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia. Our government must work to prevent tragedies like this by investing in health care for all individuals in need, and true alternatives to detention that keep families together with their communities. And we must join together in solidarity to dismantle the systemic white supremacy and white nationalists policies that have built our unjust immigration system.”
Heidi Altman, Policy Director for the National Immigrant Justice Center, presented at the forum and said:
“ICE’s reckless response to COVID-19 comes as no surprise. Federal courts have repeatedly found ICE in blatant disregard of the most basic protections. People inside these jails are bravely organizing and resisting, and they are met with pepper spray. Those of us advocating on the outside are struck by the incomprehensible reality of having to fight to get ICE to give people behind bars enough soap during a global pandemic. Members of Congress must awaken to the imperative that the immigration detention system must be dismantled.”
Andrea Flores, Deputy Director of Policy at the ACLU, said:
“ICE detention was a crisis of epic proportions before the pandemic. The mass detention of immigrants, the conditions they are held in, the role of for-profit operators, and the erosion of legal paths out have all created an unconscionable situation — even before COVID-19. The global pandemic has pushed it past the breaking point. Public health experts have long warned that immigrant detention will be a hotspot for the spread of the virus, inside immigration jails and in the surrounding communities. As we watch confirmed case numbers for detained people and staff grow every day, we urge Congress to take the death of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia as a warning sign and take action to release people in ICE detention now.”
The #DefundHate campaign, composed of organizations representing directly impacted communities, faith leaders, and civil rights and immigrant rights advocates, is committed to divestment from agencies that tear apart our families and terrorize our communities. For too long, our representatives have said they care about our communities while simultaneously funding aggressive immigration enforcement and deadly immigration jails. They must be held accountable to keep their promises and stand with the immigrant community. We call on our members of Congress to say no and vote against wasting taxpayer dollars on an abusive and deadly immigration enforcement system. Instead, we want our tax dollars used to strengthen our families and communities by investing in education, housing, nutrition and health care programs that provide opportunity and increase well-being.