PORTLAND, Ore.—Oregon immigrants’ rights advocates today submitted a petition to local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials asking them to slow the spread of COVID-19 by stopping immigration enforcement, releasing individuals from detention, and implementing protective health measures in immigration court. The petition follows a joint letter to ICE sent in March asking for a humane response to the pandemic to protect public health that received no response.
The petition signed by 1,205 Oregonians asks the ICE Portland field office director and Seattle regional director to:
Cease all civil immigration arrests and halt all deportations.
Release all people at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma.
Close the Portland Immigration Court and make clear that all deadlines have been indefinitely extended.
“Every Oregonian needs to be able to care for their loved ones and to act together to flatten the curve, without fear that they will be arrested, detained, and deported in the middle of a global pandemic,” said Adriana Miranda, executive director of Causa Oregon. “This is about saving lives and we cannot wait.”
Public health experts have cautioned that conditions in ICE detention centers “can help amplify epidemics” and say that reducing the population in these detention facilities is a critical step, which must be taken immediately, before coronavirus is widespread in the detention centers. And last month, 3,000 medical professionals signed on to a letter asking ICE to release immigration detainees, writing, “Detention facilities, like the jails and prisons in which they are housed, are designed to maximize control of the incarcerated population, not to minimize disease transmission or to efficiently deliver health care.”
There have been 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those in ICE custody, and other detainees held in federal care have taken to hunger strikes to protest conditions and demand parole amid the health crisis. At least 85 people detained at the Northwest Detention Center were among the hunger strikers, saying in a March 28 news release, "We want to be released because in here there's no protection from the virus...We are on hunger strike because we know it's not true that we will receive medical care here in NWDC.”
“Civil detention should not be a death sentence,” said Leland Baxter-Neal, staff attorney at the ACLU of Oregon. “ICE and CBP cannot wait any longer and must immediately begin releasing everyone from civil immigration detention. These agencies lack the expertise, equipment and training necessary to prepare for and address a COVID-19 outbreak. Their track record of abuse and medical neglect make it implausible to trust them with continued detention of any number of individuals — especially during a pandemic.”
Last week, Innovation Law Lab, along with several other national immigrants’ rights advocates, sought a temporary restraining order that would have required the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the agency that oversees the immigration courts, to establish protective measures to ensure that respondents in immigration court are not put in danger during the COVID-19 pandemic. A federal district judge denied the motion, noting certain incremental steps that EOIR had taken since the motion was filed, including further postponing nondetained hearings, amending a long-standing agency rule prohibiting electronic signatures on filings, and permitting limited email filing at certain immigration courts. Those incremental measures, however, do not fully protect against transmission of the disease in detention centers or in immigration courts at which detained respondents are required to appear in-person for their hearings.
The groups are still collecting signatures at https://bit.ly/ProtectOregonians.