COVID-19: Vulnerable Immigrants Sitting Ducks

March 17, 2020

Contact: Ariela Moscowitz

[email protected] / 305-573-1106 x 1100

MIAMI – Despite the urgent need for this administration to immediately implement procedures for the prevention and management of COVID-19 at all Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities and other locations where individuals must report to ICE or United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), little to no changes have been made. Asylum cases in court and at the asylum office are proceeding as scheduled, despite the risk to asylum applicants, immigration judges and asylum officers. On March 15, 2020, the National Association of Immigration Judges (NAIJ), the American Federation of Government Employees Local 511 (the ICE Professionals Union), and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) called for the nationwide closure of our immigration courts for two to four weeks “in light of the broad scope of the health and safety challenges facing our nation.”

Meanwhile, immigrants still have to wait in long lines for their ICE “check-ins” and immigrants with compelling cases for legal status are languishing in ICE detention, where access to hygiene and health care is substandard at best.

“No person should have to choose between safeguarding their health and well-being and/or failing to meet DHS’ unreasonable and unnecessary demands. ICE detainees face an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19 as they are forced to live in close quarters and rendered powerless to take appropriate measures to ensure their own health,” noted Jessica Schneider, Director of AI Justice’s Detention Program. Cheryl Little, AI Justice’s Executive Director also noted, “At this critical moment in time, it seems incredulous that Trump’s deportation machine marches on, despite the human cost.”

We urge government officials to take the following precautions in light of COVID-19:

  • Immediately close immigration courts – (All individual hearings are currently proceeding as scheduled. All detained hearings are proceeding as scheduled.)
  • Immediately release all detainees not subject to mandatory detention – ICE has the discretion to do this NOW. The vast majority of immigrants have family members here able and willing to take them in while their cases are pending.
  • Issue parole to all eligible detainees with a particular emphasis on those who are at high risk of serious illness or even death, including people 60 and older, those with underlying health conditions or weakened immune systems, and people who are pregnant or have pre-existing conditions.
  • Take proper care to prevent transmission in custody – Immediately test detainees who exhibit symptoms or present risk factors; provide proper hygiene supplies; stop all transfers from facility-to-facility.
  • Cancel all ICE check-ins and allow all individuals on ICE supervision programs to report via telephone.
  • Postpone all asylum interviews at USCIS asylum offices and waive interviews for all routine USCIS cases.

Below are the letters urging decision-makers to take sensible and humane action:


Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice) is an award-winning non-profit law firm that protects and promotes the basic human rights of immigrants. In Florida and on a national level, it champions the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children; advocates for survivors of trafficking and domestic violence; serves as a watchdog on immigration detention practices and policies; and speaks for immigrant groups who have particular and compelling claims to justice.