March 05, 2020

Warren, Colleagues Call on DHS to Halt Immigration Enforcement at Hospitals and Medical Facilities as Nation Braces for Coronavirus Outbreak

Threat of Deportation May Discourage Undocumented Immigrants from Seeking Medical Care for COVID-19

Agency Has Taken Similar Actions Following Hurricanes and Other Emergencies

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to urge the agencies to suspend all immigration enforcement actions in and around hospitals and other medical facilities as the nation prepares for potential outbreaks of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The lawmakers specifically called on the agencies to publicly announce this suspension to ensure that individuals who might otherwise refrain from seeking care due to fear of immigration enforcement are encouraged to seek treatment for COVID-19.

DHS has previously acted to ensure that individuals-including undocumented individuals who might otherwise refrain from accessing medical care due to fears of deportation or other adverse immigration enforcement actions-can access health care and other services in the midst of public emergencies, and has done so following hurricanes, tropical storms, and other emergencies.

In their letter, the lawmakers warned that immigration enforcement actions-when conducted in or around hospitals or other medical facilities-could discourage undocumented immigrants from seeking necessary medical care, rendering efforts to contain the virus more difficult.

"As public health officials work to contain the spread of COVID-19, it would be extremely damaging to the nation's public health efforts if individuals who may be suffering from the virus fear seeking medical help," the lawmakers wrote. "To ensure that federal, state, and local public health responses to coronavirus are as robust and unhindered as possible, we urge your agencies to take a step similar to those they have taken during recent natural disasters and immediately announce the suspension of all immigration enforcement activities taking place in and around hospitals."

The lawmakers also asked DHS, CBP, and ICE to expand this suspension to include other medical facilities, such as clinics and urgent care facilities, and to include hospitals and other medical facilities within 100 miles of the international border in the list of facilities where the suspension is in place. In addition, the lawmakers requested a briefing on additional efforts underway at DHS and CBP to ensure that the agencies' activities supplement and do not interfere with the response to COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Senator Warren has worked to ensure that the Trump Administration is effectively responding to the outbreak and that the U.S. has the resources needed to address this threat. Her ongoing efforts include the following:

  • Senator Warren sent letters to the CEOs of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley -- the U.S.-based "Too Big to Fail" banks with the largest foreign exposures -- asking about how they are monitoring and preparing to mitigate the economic risks of the outbreak of the coronavirus.
  • Senator Warren introduced legislation requiring all funds that have been appropriated to build a border wall --including funds directly appropriated by Congress and funds diverted by the executive branch from other accounts -- to be immediately transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of combatting the novel coronavirus.
  • Senator Warren wrote to federal agencies raising concerns over reports that appeared to show confusion and disagreement between federal officials earlier this month when State Department and HHS officials overruled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations during the evacuation of American citizens with coronavirus from Japan.
  • Senator Warren joined Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and 24 of their Senate colleagues pressing the Trump Administration to request emergency funding for the coronavirus response. Their letter to HHS and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also expressed concerns over the Trump Administration's failure to outline what additional resources it needs to respond to the rapidly developing coronavirus outbreak.
  • Senator Warren and Senator Murray led 25 of their Senate colleagues urging the head of the National Security Council (NSC) to appoint a senior global health security expert to manage the response to the threat. Senators Warren and Murray first raised concerns about this lack of public health leadership at the NSC in May 2018.
  • Senator Warren also joined Senator Murray and sent a letter to OMB and HHS opposing their decision to pull funding from existing public health programs to combat coronavirus rather than requesting supplemental funds from Congress.
  • On February 13, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on a bipartisan letter calling on HHS to establish clear guidelines for how state and local governments will be reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • On February 3, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and 47 of their bipartisan colleagues calling on CDC to distribute rapid diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus as quickly as possible and to prioritize states with confirmed cases of the virus to receive the first available test kits.
  • On January 31, 2020, after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States, Senators Warren and Angus King (I-Maine) questioned USAID on the agency's 2019 decision to shutter PREDICT, a global infectious disease prevention program, which from 2009 to 2019, identified nearly 1,000 new viruses, including a new strand of Ebola; trained roughly 5,000 people; and improved or developed 60 research laboratories.
  • Also in January 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and 29 of their Democratic Senate colleagues sending a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar requesting updates on the Administration's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe.
  • Further, following the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's 2019 Annual Report that showed U.S. "growing reliance" on products critical to the manufacturing of drugs, which are primarily made in China, Senator Warren and a group of bipartisan senators wrote to the Department of Defense (DoD) seeking answers on how DoD is working to address the risk of reliance on foreign drug makers.