The Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act, Jayapal wrote on Twitter, “calls for the immediate release of people in detention centers who are under 21, over 50, or have a vulnerable health condition. It also calls for ICE to review the custody of ALL immigrants in detention in order to lower the detention population and to release those that don’t pose a risk to public safety. Social distancing in a detention center is an oxymoron.”
In one recent lawsuit demanding the release of people from a number of Pennsylvania facilities, groups said as many as 60 people are forced to share sinks and showers, while others “are packed into open spaces where they literally can touch people sleeping next to them,” the complaint said. “Plaintiffs’ public health and medical experts attest that the crowded conditions at the three prisons make the most vital preventative measure, social distancing, impossible.”
Jayapal wrote that “For those that remain in detention centers, it also guarantees access to hygiene products, the ability to contact loved ones, and the ability to videoconference with legal counsel at no cost.” In another lawsuit filed last month demanding the release of children and parents from three migrant family jails, plaintiffs said broken soap dispensers in rooms “have not been fixed despite their requests.”
Under the FIRST Act, the statement from Booker’s office continued, “individuals moved out of immigration detention would not be forced to return to detention once the public health emergency has lifted unless an individualized determination is made that the person is a threat to public safety or alternatives to detention are insufficient to guarantee attendance at immigration proceedings.”
“The bill comes as a growing number of immigrants in federal custody are testing positive for COVID-19,” the statement continued. “According to data released by ICE, 16 of the 72 immigrants who have tested positive nationally are located at detention centers in New Jersey, the highest of any other state. Each of New Jersey’s four facilities that house ICE detainees have reported cases of COVID-19 among its staff and detainees, and the first immigrant detainee to test positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. was from a detention center in New Jersey.”
The bill, which is cosponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Mazie Hirono, would also notably stop ICE agents from carrying out what’s cruelly known as collateral arrests, which is when someone who wasn’t even the target of a raid gets detained because they also live there—or just happened to be there at the time. This highly ties in to the current pandemic, because that first ICE detainee confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 was a collateral arrest.
“The federal government is entirely responsible for the safety and wellbeing of immigrants in detention centers and Congress must ensure that ICE is heeding critical public health guidance and keeping immigrants and our communities safe from infection,” Jayapal said. “By reducing the number of people held in ICE detention centers and making sure those who remain in detention have access to needed soap and proper hygiene products, the FIRST Act reduces the risk to spreading disease and protects immigrants and our public health.”