June 10, 2021

Warren, Colleagues Call On DHS and ICE to Issue Guidance Against Re-detaining Individuals Released During Pandemic

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Cory A. Booker (D-N.J.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) calling on the agencies to issue guidance for all ICE field offices and detention centers against re-detaining individuals previously released due to the COVID-19 pandemic who have complied with the conditions of their release and who pose no public safety concerns.

"It is imperative that federal authorities protect the health, safety, and rights of detained individuals and the wellbeing of the staff, families, and the surrounding communities of ICE detention centers," wrote the lawmakers. "We urge DHS and ICE to take steps to remove the unpredictability, uncertainty, and arbitrariness generated by the varying approaches of different ICE field offices regarding re-detaining released individuals. We ask that you promptly issue guidance to all ICE field offices and detention facilities that individuals who have been released from custody due to COVID-19, and who have complied and continue to comply with the conditions of their release, should be permitted to remain free from custody."

ICE detention facilities have served as hotspots for COVID-19 transmission, imperiling the health and safety of detainees, the staff in charge of their care, and their surrounding communities. In April 2020, a federal judge granted an emergency preliminary injunction ordering ICE to release all detained immigrants at risk for COVID-19. As of March 22, 2021, ICE has released from its custody only 3,741 detainees, which amounts to less than 16% of the currently detained population. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has over 800 previously detained clients who have been released, many of these individuals are now living safely at home with their families, in compliance with the terms of their court-ordered releases and posing no danger to their community.

While some ICE field offices have agreed not to re-detain anyone released by court order as a result of COVID-19, others have actively sought to reverse court orders granting releases. This inconsistency in the approaches taken by ICE field offices is leading to unpredictability and uncertainty, subjecting formerly detained people to the prospect of re-detention and thus an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure.

"Individuals who were released from immigration detention to the safety of their families due to serious risks to their health and lives during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis must continue to be treated with dignity," said Adina Appelbaum, program director of Immigration Impact Lab at the Capital Area Immigrants' Rights (CAIR) Coalition. "In valuing their health and safety, the federal courts have recognized the humanity of these men and women. Re-detaining them would mean we are regressing back to a world where immigrants are not seen as human beings."

"Over the course of COVID-19 pandemic, ICE agreed to release thousands of people from detention to shelter in the safety of their homes. ICE also reduced the number of people in ICE detention from more than 56,000 each day to just over 13,000," said Eunice Cho, Sr. Staff Attorney, ACLU National Prison Project. "This dramatic reduction underscores an important truth: Immigration detention has been overused for decades. Now, as the country works to move past the pandemic, we hope the government will choose a just, humane approach and allow people who were released to remain free with their families and communities. That is the country we aspire to be."

This letter has been endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the CAIR Coalition and is part of Senator Warren's ongoing efforts to protect the rights of migrants and asylum seekers.

  • In April 2021, Senator Warren (D-Mass.), Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Senator Alex Padilla, and Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) led a bicameral letter to President Biden urging the inclusion of a fair, secure, and accessible pathway to U.S. citizenship for over 5 million immigrant essential workers in the President's upcoming infrastructure package.
  • In March 2021, Senator Warren, Congressman Joaquin Castro, and Senator Booker reintroduced the bicameral COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act to require immigration detention facilities to collect and publicly report data about COVID-19 cases, vaccine distribution, and the preventative measures in place in these facilities.
  • In February, Senator Warren joined Senator Bob Menendez and Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) in introducing the bicameral U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 - President Biden's bold, inclusive, and humane framework for the future of the United States immigration system.
  • In April 2020, Senator Warren cosponsored Senator Booker's Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act. The bill called for moving immigrants out of detention and halting immigration enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic to address the spread of the virus in congregant settings.