Across the world, people are taking extraordinary measures to stem the spread of COVID-19. This commitment to social distancing, however, is undermined by unnecessary incarceration and detention. And with detention centers being uniquely susceptible to community spread, being held by the government can become a death sentence.
That’s why we urge you to tell Congress to pass the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together Act (FIRST Act). The First Act provides urgent and critical restrictions on immigration detention and enforcement during this unprecedented national public health emergency.
Last week, during the Defending Rights & Dissent/The Nation’s town hall on Civil Liberties and COVID-19, our board member and Project Souths’ Legal & Advocacy Director Azadeh Shahshahani gave a harrowing account of conditions inside ICE detention in Georgia. She also talked about the inspiring organizing activists were doing to end them. When I asked her during the town hall what can those watching at home could do, she urged everyone to contact Congress about the FIRST Act.
The FIRST Act requires (with some exceptions) the release of all individuals in immigration custody who are at heightened risk of vulnerability to COVID-19 because of age or pre-existing medical conditions, something called for by public health officials. It would also create presumption of release for all other individuals currently in DHS custody, including those subject to mandatory detention. For those who remain in custody, the act mandates the Department of Homeland Security provide basic health and sanitary supplies and telephonic access. Finally, this Act requires ICE to suspend interior civil immigration enforcement during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic except in certain limited circumstances, and specifically prohibits enforcement in sensitive locations, including medical facilities and other places that offer vital assistance.
We cannot fight this pandemic if we cage people encouraging community spread. Congress must pass the FIRST Act now.