(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) calling on the Department to release non-violent detainees after learning the Department has no serious plan to address overcrowding in detention facilities in order to minimize the spread of the novel coronavirus and free up sufficient space for effective quarantining.

“In light of recent reports of detainees and staff testing positive at multiple detention centers, the high risk of further outbreaks in the near future, and the lack of adequate medical staff and equipment, we call on you to immediately release non-violent detainees, prioritizing those who are at higher risk for complications from coronavirus,” Maloney and Raskin wrote.  “Releasing these non-violent detainees will prevent the unnecessary infection, sickness, and death of the men and women who work in these facilities and those who are detained.”

On March 11, 2020, Chairs Maloney and Raskin sent an initial letter to DHS seeking information on the Department’s plans to prevent a coronavirus outbreak.  The Department staff provided a briefing to Committee staff on March 20, 2020, that only exacerbated the Committee’s concerns for the safety and well-being of detainees.  ICE officials conceded during their briefing that they have no contingency plan for coronavirus treatment if local hospitals become overwhelmed and cannot treat detainees. 

“If an outbreak spreads from a facility into the community, it will exacerbate the strain on local hospitals since many detention centers are in rural areas with very little medical infrastructure,” wrote Maloney and Raskin.

More than 3,000 doctors have called for the release of detainees who do not pose an immediate risk to public safety, noting the dangerous conditions in facilities where “detainees live in close quarters, with subpar infection control measures in place, and whose population represents some of the most vulnerable.”

Former ICE Director John Sandweg also recommended releasing detainees, stressing that an outbreak in a detention facility poses a severe danger both to detainees and the communities where detention facilities are located.  He warned that an outbreak could expose the hundreds of people working in ICE facilities to the virus.  “Once exposed, many of them will unknowingly take the virus home to their family and community.”

“The Department cannot continue to drag its feet in response to this crisis.  Now is the time to prevent an exponential increase in cases and deaths,” added Maloney and Raskin.

Click here to read today’s letter.