May 02, 2020

Warren Joins Durbin and Menendez to Press Trump Administration on Deportation of COVID-19 Positive Migrants

Senators Call on Administration to Mandate COVID-19 Testing for All Migrants Before They are Deported are Transferred from the United States

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC – Following reports that the Trump Administration has deported dozens of Guatemalan, Mexican, and Haitian nationals who tested positive for COVID-19, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in calling on the Administration to mandate COVID-19 testing for all migrants before they are deported or transferred from the United States, to ensure that migrants who test positive receive proper medical treatment, and to immediately end deportations of individuals who have tested positive or exhibited symptoms of COVID-19 until they have recovered and are no longer contagious.

More than 50 recent deportees from the U.S. to Guatemala have recently tested positive, at least two recent Mexican deportees have tested positive upon arrival in their home countries, and at least three migrants deported to Haiti last month also tested positive.  

“Deporting migrants with COVID-19 to countries in the region without the capacity to adequately respond to the pandemic is an unwise breach of public health responsibilities and the need for a cooperative response to this crisis,” the senators wrote in the letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf. “Forcibly returning individuals infected with COVID-19 does not comport with the humanitarian and public health standards our nation must uphold in a time of pandemic. Continuing to deport COVID-19-positive individuals to countries that do not have the capacity to control its spread undermines the United States’ ability to defend against re-introduction of the virus once the epidemic is brought under control in the United States.”

World Health Organization guidance states that “travellers with signs and symptoms of respiratory infection who have a history of exposure to COVID-19 should be isolated until they are able to be safely transferred to a health care facility for further assessment.”  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential international travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” adding, “Some health care systems are overwhelmed and there may be limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas.”   

As of April 29, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has reported 490 cases among detainees since the COVID-19 outbreak began, and only about 1,030 tests have been conducted on nearly 30,000 ICE detainees nationwide. Additionally, it appears that only beginning the day before yesterday did ICE test migrants deported to Guatemala before they boarded their flight. It is unclear whether ICE will continue testing individuals deported to Guatemala, and whether ICE will test those deported to other countries.   

Furthermore, the threat of visa sanctions in President Trump’s April 10 memorandum may effectively muzzle objections by countries seeking to protect themselves from the arrival of deportees with COVID-19.

Along with Warren, Durbin, and Menendez, the letter is signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).

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


  • 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 Pressley led a follow up letter to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), 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. In August 2019, the lawmakers were joined by dozens of their colleagues on a letter about the decision to halt consideration of non-military deferred action requests.

  • On March 4, 2020, Senator Warren led 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.