Coronavirus forces ICE to review releasing nonviolent detainees

Posted Apr 07, 2020

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Tuesday that they will begin reviewing nonviolent detainees with an eye toward releasing those at risk for the coronavirus.

The agency said would look at those at least 60 years old, those who are pregnant, and others who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19, the agency said in a memo sent to members of Congress and obtained by NJ Advance Media.

“ICE has a long history of handling communicable diseases in the course of everyday operations and maintains emergency and contingency pandemic plans,” according to the memo written by Sean Hackbarth, deputy assistant director of ICE’s Office of Congressional Relations.

“The agency has modified its enforcement posture, detention operations, and visitation practices to ensure that individuals in the agency’s custody and its employees remain safe.”

ICE decides daily on a case-by-case basis whether to release detainees and has alternatives to keeping them behind bars, Hackbarth wrote.

At least four detainees held in New Jersey tested positive for the coronavirus, two at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, one at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, and one at the Hudson County Jail in Kearny, according to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.

Menendez, D-N.J., had asked Homeland Security officials Mar. 31 to begin releasing nonviolent detainees to avoid spreading COVID-19.

“I’m glad ICE will exercise its discretion during the COVID-19 pandemic and release immigrants who pose no public safety risk and are vulnerable to the virus," Menendez said. "ICE can save lives and I hope they act quickly.”

Menendez has said 60 percent of the 38,000 detainees have no criminal convictions and that thousands came to the U.S. in search of asylum because they had "a credible fear of being persecuted or tortured” if forced to return to their native country.

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