April 13, 2020

Sen. Warren Joins Sen. Booker & Rep. Jayapal to Unveil Bold Legislation to Move Immigrants Out of Detention and Halt Immigration Enforcement During Coronavirus Emergency

Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act comes as growing number of immigrants in federal custody test positive for COVID-19

Bill Text (PDF)

Washington, DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) today to unveil new legislation, called the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act, that would move immigrants out of detention and halt immigration enforcement against individuals not deemed a significant public safety risk during this coronavirus public health emergency and future health emergencies.


The bill comes as a growing number of immigrants in federal custody are testing positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). It’s estimated that roughly 37,000 immigrants are detained nationally.


In addition to moving immigrants out of detention and halting immigration enforcement during the pandemic, the FIRST Act would also modify in-person reporting requirements; suspend collateral arrests; make telephone calls and video-conferencing available for detained immigrants free of charge (since in-person visits have been temporarily suspended); and ensure that soap, hand sanitizer, and other necessary hygiene products are provided free of charge to immigrants in detention, as recent reports have revealed that these basic sanitation supplies are not being provided at many detention centers across the country.


Despite reports that ICE would alter enforcement priorities as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, officials within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have sent mixed signals about how enforcement priorities will be modified to address the crisis.


Under the bill, individuals moved out of immigration detention would not be forced to return to detention once the public health emergency has lifted unless an individualized determination is made that the person is a threat to public safety or alternatives to detention are insufficient to guarantee attendance at immigration proceedings.


In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai’i).


Senator Warren has been a champion for immigrants, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • In early March, she led a letter urging the Trump Administration to suspend all immigration enforcement actions in and around hospitals and other medical facilities. 

  • On March 11, she sent a letter with Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) raising concerns about the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) handling of COVID-19 prevention efforts in the immigration courts. Senator Warren later urged DOJ to close all immigration courts to prevent the spread of the virus. 

  • She joined her colleagues in a letter to DHS, ICE, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pushing for the release of vulnerable and low-risk detained persons from DHS custody as the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise. She and her colleagues previously wrote to DHS, ICE, and CBP asking about their plans to prepare for the possible spread of COVID-19 within DHS facilities. 

  • She joined a bicameral group of lawmakers to introduce the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act that would help ensure that all communities are able to access COVID-19 testing and treatment, and other relief services provided in coronavirus relief legislation.

  • She has also introduced the Prioritizing Pandemic Prevention Act (S. 3510), legislation to defund the border wall and direct those funds to combating COVID-19.