June 18, 2020

Senator Warren Joins Markey in Introducing Legislation to Halt Deportations, Harmful Immigration Enforcement Actions During Coronavirus Pandemic

Text of Bill (PDF)

Washington, DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) to introduce legislation to halt the Trump administration’s harmful immigration enforcement activities, including deportations, during the coronavirus pandemic to protect public health.

Continued arrests and apprehensions discourage immigrant communities from accessing services necessary for their health and well-being and contribute to dangerous crowding in immigration detention centers. Deportations, particularly after prolonged detention in unsafe conditions, risk spreading coronavirus to neighboring countries, where the virus could devastate health systems and create untold harm. In late April, people deported to Guatemala made up 20% of all coronavirus cases in that country. Further adding to the harm the Trump administration has inflicted, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order has fueled tens of thousands of unlawful expulsions in under three months, including more than 2,000 unaccompanied children. As of the beginning of June, only four people have been allowed to seek refuge in the United States under this restrictive order.

The Immigration Enforcement Moratorium Act would: 

  • Halt deportations of noncitizens during the coronavirus pandemic and provide for release on orders of supervision for people who have received removal orders to prevent prolonged post-removal-order detention;

  • Halt arrests and apprehensions of noncitizens physically present in the United State during the coronavirus pandemic;

  • Halt in-person check-ins, service of Notices to Appear, and referrals for 1325/26 prosecutions;

  • Provide for processing and parole of individuals at the border who make claims for relief under the immigration laws;

  • Suspend all in-person immigration court proceedings, and, for detained individuals, establish a procedure for conducting custody determinations and provide for telephonic hearings provided the respondent requests such a hearing in writing; and

  • Prohibit federal funds being used to implement the CDC order powering automatic expulsions of asylum-seekers and unaccompanied children at the border.

Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) also cosponsored the bill.

The legislation is supported by nearly 70 national, state, and local organizations, including: Al Otro Lado, Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, American Friends Service Committee, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Amnesty International USA, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP), AsylumWorks, Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Cambridge Health Alliance, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law, Center for Victims of Torture, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Coalition on Human Needs, Columbia Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, Detention Watch Network, Disciples Immigration Legal Counsel, Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Families Belong Together, Farmworker Association of Florida, Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project Freedom for Immigrants, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Hope Border Institute, Human Rights First, Immigrant Service Providers Group/Health, Immigration Hub, Immigration Justice Task Force of First Parish in Concord, International Institute of New England, International Refugee Assistance Project, International Rescue Committee, Justice in Motion, Latin America Working Group (LAWG), Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition, National Council of Jewish Women, National Day Laborer Organizing Network *(NDLON), National Immigrant Justice Center, National Immigration Law Center, National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), Neponset Health Center, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, NISGUA, Ohio Immigrant Alliance, Oxfam America, Physicians for Human Rights, RAICES, Refugees International, Rian Immigrant Center, Save the Children Action Network, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team, Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, Sueños Sin Fronteras de Tejas, The Advocates for Human Rights, The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, United Stateless, United We Dream, Washington Office on Latin America, Witness at the Border, Women’s Refugee Commission, Workers Center of Central New York, and Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights.

“Fear of immigration enforcement has been deadly in the COVID-19 crisis, keeping many people from getting tested or seeking care until it was too late, and leading many more to suffer through their illness alone, with potentially serious consequences. This bill sends a clear message that human lives and public health always take priority over immigration matters. We appreciate Senator Markey’s leadership on this and other bills that reassert American values at a time of relentless attacks on immigrants and refugees,” said Eva Millona, Chief Executive Officer, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA).

“The Trump administration has recklessly continued to pursue immigration arrests, detention, and deportations despite clear public health risks, while citing specious public health justifications to expel asylum-seekers and unaccompanied children in clear violation of U.S. legal obligations. We welcome the introduction of this visionary bill, which protects human rights and preserves public health,” Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas Advocacy Director at Amnesty International USA. 

“AILA urges support for the Immigration Enforcement Moratorium Act, legislation that recognizes the stresses our nation is under during the pandemic and ensures immigration enforcement does not harm families and communities as we work together to confront the COVID-19 crisis. This bill recognizes that the pandemic has upended lives and livelihoods. It takes commonsense, rational actions to reduce harm to families and communities and ensures that immigration enforcement actions and immigration court operations meet the moment we are all in with smart and balanced measures,” Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director, American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

“Amid a historic pandemic, current immigration enforcement activities in the United States – arrests, detentions, transfers, ICE check-ins, removal proceedings – endanger the health of people in the immigration system and the public at large. But the public health impacts of these politically-motivated policies reach far beyond United States borders. The Trump administration’s continued deportations export and compound the effects of COVID-19 on under-resourced health systems in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and elsewhere. To save lives and protect public health during the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration should listen to medical experts and immediately stop these potentially dangerous enforcement activities now,” Dr. Michele Heisler, Medical Director, Physicians for Human Rights.

“The United States is exacerbating the spread of COVID-19 and returning migrants to instability and danger with its ongoing expulsions and deportations. Travel is restricted worldwide and yet the United States continues to deport migrants who have been exposed to the virus, exporting COVID-19 to countries with fragile health systems. Latin America Working Group welcomes the Immigration Enforcement Moratorium Act and its call to temporarily halt immigration enforcement throughout the public health emergency including deportations, apprehensions, and stopping the unlawful expulsions from the border,” Daniella Burgi-Palomino, Co-director, Latin America Working Group.

The bill is a part of Senator Warren's ongoing efforts to protect the rights and wellbeing of migrants and asylum seekers:


  • On May 2, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to call on the Administration to mandate COVID-19 testing for all migrants before they are deported are transferred from the United States.

  • On April 28, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Udall in a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) requesting they open an investigation into the conditions at ICE detention facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • On April 23, 2020, Senators Warren and Markey and Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) led a letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, DHS, and ICE requesting they provide answers about whether they will continue to grant requests for medical deferments for immigrants and their families seeking care for major medical illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • On March 4, 2020, Senator Warren led her colleagues on a letter to DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and ICE urging the agencies to suspend all immigration enforcement actions in and around hospitals and other medical facilities as the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic became apparent.

  • On March 2, 2020, Senator Warren, Merkley, and Harris raised concerns with the U.S. Department of Justice and DHS that DHS-operated "tent courts" violate asylum seekers' due process rights.

  • On February 5, 2020, Senator Warren and Senator Menendez led 19 of their Senate colleagues in a letter to Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, questioning the legality of three international "asylum cooperative agreements" used by the Trump Administration to expel asylum seekers to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. 

  • On January 28, 2020, Senator Warren joined a congressional amicus brief urging the Ninth Circuit to uphold the Flores Settlement Agreement, which provides safeguards for children in immigration detention. On September 26, 2018, she joined Senator Durbin and her Senate colleagues on a letter to DHS and the Department of Health and Human Services, opposing the proposed rollback of the Agreement.

  • On December 18, 2019, Senator Warren joined a letter led by Senator Booker expressing concern about the termination of the National Immigration Detention Hotline, which allowed detained individuals to report abuses and request support.

  • Following a DHS-OIG report regarding unsafe conditions and mistreatment of migrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers, Senator Warren opened investigations on November 15, 2018 into two of the country's largest private prison contractors and the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities. On April 17, 2019, she released findings that revealed that none of the companies had taken responsibility for egregious failures identified by the DHS IG and demonstrated an ongoing dispute between the auditor and the IG about the quality of the auditor's inspections. 

  • On November 19, 2019, Senator Warren joined Senator Merkley in requesting the public release of a DHS report detailing the flaws in the Remain in Mexico program.

  • On October 31, 2019, Senator Warren sent a letter to DHS's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) requesting information about its oversight of ICE detention facilities and ICE's reported misuse of solitary confinement at those facilities. On July 24, 2019, she also requested an investigation into reports of solitary confinement being used to coerce participation in "voluntary" work programs at immigration detention facilities.

  • On October 15, 2019, Senator Warren and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) wrote to DHS, ICE, and CBP, citing reports of abuse and neglect of transgender migrants and asylum seekers and urging the Trump Administration to reverse policies-including misuse of solitary confinement-that are harming these vulnerable populations.

  • On December 17, 2018, Senator Warren sent a letter to DHS after reports of the death of a child in CBP custody. On May 21, 2019, she followed up on these concerns after the death of five children in custody in the span of six months. On June 26, 2019, she also joined Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i) and seven other senators calling for the federal government to investigate federal contractors after disturbing reports of hungry, sick, and unbathed children being held in federal contractor facilities near the border were made public. On May 21, 2019, she also wrote to CBP requesting answers to questions on steps being taken to protect children, and on September 12, 2019, she called for the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children to be shut down. 

  • On September 6, 2019, Senator Warren expressed serious concerns over DHS's announcement that migrant families currently detained at CBP holding centers would not be vaccinated for the flu ahead of the flu season. On December 16, 2019, she and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) followed up with another letter.

  • On August 27, 2019, Senator Warren joined Ranking Member Menendez and colleagues in calling on the Trump Administration to end the Remain in Mexico program.

  • On May 31, 2019, the senator opened an investigation into the accreditation process for private detention operators following widespread reports of mismanagement and poor conditions for detainees in facilities nationwide.