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Some longtime critics of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and advocates of open borders are calling for the release of illegal immigrants from federal custody due to the coronavirus pandemic, claiming this is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus among detainees.
Such a mass release would be a serious mistake and do far more harm than good. Among other things, it would endanger public safety by releasing detainees with violent criminal records into our communities. And it could also increase the health risks to detainees who are released.
We all realize the coronavirus pandemic is a national emergency that is causing the federal, state and local governments to take dramatic actions, such as closing many businesses and warning us to stay home as much as possible and practice social distancing.
But we can’t afford to let the fear of the coronavirus spreading end the rule of law in our country. If people can break the law without fearing any consequences we will see more people commit crimes – and that will pose a grave danger to us all.
Most people don’t know it, but nearly 90 percent of the illegal immigrants arrested by ICE agents are either convicted criminals or face pending criminal charges beyond charges of illegally entering the U.S. It would be the height irresponsibility release these people into our country.
America’s immigration laws have been enacted and changed by Congress and presidents going back to 1882. ICE and other law enforcement agencies didn’t come up with these laws and don’t have the power to change them.
It’s wrong to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to attack the law enforcement officers who are carrying out their sworn duty to enforce these immigration laws.
Illegal immigrants can be released from ICE detention under court orders; on a case-by-case basis due to significant humanitarian concerns; or if they win their cases. They can be removed from the U.S. if their asylum requests are turned down. But there is no legal mechanism to simply throw open the doors to detention centers and let everyone go wherever they please.
President Trump has taken important action by largely closing U.S. borders to many non-Americans entering our country in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus. But he has wisely not ordered the release of all illegal immigrants in custody who are awaiting court hearings or removals.
Most people don’t know it, but nearly 90 percent of the illegal immigrants arrested by ICE agents are either convicted criminals or face pending criminal charges beyond charges of illegally entering the U.S.
As the president well knows, if we do not have the ability to detain those who illegally enter our nation until they see a judge and plead their cases, or remove those who have been ordered removed by a federal judge, we will never solve the immigration crisis on the border.
Critics of ICE have made wild and false claims about how the agency’s detention facilities operate, in an effort to convince the American people that no illegal immigrant should be detained.
In a particularly disgusting lie, some critics have compared ICE facilities to notorious Nazi concentration camps where millions of people were tortured and murdered. They claimed women were being forced to drink from toilets and told other lies to make it sound like ICE facilities are hellholes where no human being should be held.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
ICE contracts most of its detention to companies that operate detention facilities not only for the federal government but also for state and local governments. These companies are used widely because they do the job better and cheaper than the government can.
Using outside contractors that run facilities like this as their core business function not only saves millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, but increases the quality of care for those being detained. This is evident by the extremely low death rate of detainees.
The quality of care afforded those in ICE contract detention is better than you would find in any federal or state institution. In fact, these facilities are the finest in the world.
When I was ICE director, many sheriffs across the country refused to contract with ICE to hold our detainees because our detention standards were too high. Numerous sheriffs told me they would not meet such high standards for illegal immigrants in their jails when they don’t do so for U.S. citizens.
ICE and its contractors are fully committed to the highest level of quality and provide safe, secure and humane conditions for those in their custody. These facilities operate pursuant to strict government standards, national accreditation standards, medical accreditation agencies and the ICE Detention Standards.
The ICE facilities are managed to the standards set by third-party accreditation agencies, including but not limited to the American Correctional Association, the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare, the Commission on Jail Standards and the Joint Commission on Healthcare.
In keeping with its commitment to improving the immigration detention system, ICE revised its detention standards in 2011. The Performance-Based National Detention Standards 2011 (PBNDS 2011) clearly show ICE’s ongoing effort to maintain and improve upon a safe detention environment.
The standards were also drafted with the input and perspectives of nongovernmental organizations and in large part to improve medical services.
It’s important to note that ICE has one of the lowest rates of deaths in custody of any program within the state and federal detention system. The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics tracks the death rate of incarcerated individuals across the nation.
A review of those reports will show that the average mortality rate in state prisons was 256 deaths per 100,000 people. The mortality rate in federal prisons during the same period was 225 deaths per 100,000. Since more than 400,000 people go through the ICE system every year and ICE averages nine total deaths per year the rate of death in ICE custody is less than three per 100,000 – just 2.25.
ICE’s private contract facility providers acted quickly to address the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. These service providers specialize in the management of secure facilities and have unparalleled experience with the implementation of best practices for the prevention, assessment, and management of infectious diseases. They have been dealing with diseases coming across the border for years.
These facilities give all detainees access to clean water and soap, unlike what has been reported. The facilities are not overcrowded. One only has to do the math. ICE was holding nearly 55,000 detainees a few months ago but now is holding about 37,000.
All these detention facilities provide round-the-clock access to health care. In fact, nearly all of these large contract facilities have twice the number of health care staff compared to other federal, state and local detention facilities. ICE contract facilities also have negative pressure rooms in their medical wings known as airborne infection isolation rooms.
Guidance was again recently issued that is in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Best practices have been put into place for the prevention, assessment, and management of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Employees and detainees have been given guidance on preventative measures to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. Detention facilities have put into place additional measures during the intake process to include screening specific to the virus.
Specialized sanitation teams were put into place to sterilize high-contact areas of ICE facilities. They continue to work to limit nonessential visitation, just as most hospitals and nursing homes have done. They have also developed emergency plans for managing the coronavirus.
No location is immune from the coronavirus, no matter how many precautions are taken. It is possible to be infected on the job, at a supermarket, at home from a family member, at a detention facility and elsewhere.
But the truth is that many detainees will be far less likely to be infected and become critically ill at ICE facilities where the population is controlled and there is ready access to doctors and medical care than they would be if they were released.
ICE carefully reviews all those in detention to ascertain who has existing medical conditions that put them at great risk along with age. The agency makes a case-by-case determination to determine if continued detention is necessary or endangers the detainee. That has always been the standard practice and ICE is doing that right now in the face of this pandemic.
No mass release is needed or practical, and in fact, such a mass release would be dangerous both to our communities and to the detainees themselves.