An unprecedented response: Nearly 800 non-governmental organizations call on ICE to release all people from immigration detention

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, March 19, 2020

Washington, DC — Today, 763 non-governmental organizations sent a letter to Matthew T. Albence, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), calling for ICE to immediately release all people currently detained in immigration detention, cease all local enforcement operations, and eliminate ICE check-ins and mandatory court appearances.

In the letter, immigrant rights advocates, human and civil rights advocates and faith-based organizations from across the country underscore how lives are already at risk in immigration detention. With the spread of coronavirus, choosing to deprive people of their freedom and disregard the national guidelines of social distancing contributes to the well-documented lethal conditions of mass confinement.

“Outbreaks of mumps, scabies and other highly contagious diseases have been documented to spread aggressively in detention facilities,” reads the letter. “ICE has repeatedly proven to be incapable of adequately responding and providing the proper care for people in its custody, under normal circumstances. In light of the news that the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, we call on ICE to release all people from detention.”

In just five months, at least eight lives have been lost in ICE custody—already equalling the total number of people who died in detention in the entire previous fiscal year. Medical standards developed and implemented by ICE, have proven inadequate time and again leading to preventable deaths of people in their custody.

As a result, the letter outlines the following demands: 

  • Release of all people currently detained in ICE custody
  • Cease all local enforcement operations
  • Eliminate ICE check-ins and mandatory court appearances
  • Make phone and video calls free for people connecting with their loved ones
  • Ensure all facilities where people are detained in ICE custody, be it county jails or dedicated facilities ,are prioritizing the health and well-being of people detained, including but not limited to:
    • A provision for quarantining anyone who tests positive for the virus at a hospital, not at the prison or jail
    • A commitment that at no point will a facility be locked down or closed off to outsiders, or be considered in its entirety as a place of “quarantine.” Family members and lawyers must maintain access to their clients and loved ones.
    • Waiver of all costs associated with soap, sanitizer, and other hygiene products

Communities across the country have witnessed the devastating effects of immigration detention. From the moment someone is inhumanely put in immigration detention, their health, both mental and physical, begins to deteriorate. Lives are in jeopardy and with the global pandemic of coronavirus, we, as a society, must fervently call for the release of all people in detention and demand that ICE act now. 


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.