SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing Covid-19, has proven to be extraordinarily contagious. In order to slow the spread of the virus, public health experts and local, state, and federal governments continue to recommend several measures, including widespread testing, physical distancing, and closing down non-essential businesses. While restrictions of governments have shifted, one thing has been certain: as a society, we need to limit contact with individuals outside of our household.
Over the past 10 months, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has continued to raid, detain, and deport immigrants. On March 16, the first day of California’s stay-at-home order, ICE agents raided immigrant communities in Los Angeles. That same day, an asylum seeker in a detention center in Colorado was alerted that ICE planned to deport him to Nicaragua. On March 18, ICE issued a public statement indicating that “[the agency’s] highest priorities are to promote life-saving and public safety activities.” This has been far from true.
Between July and August 2020, in the middle of a pandemic that has taken over a quarter million lives, ICE conducted a six-week nationwide operation that consisted of raiding people’s homes and worksites to make more than 2,000 arrests. By August, ICE had made a total of 94,500 arrests in communities and state and federal jails. By late November, 67,660 detainees had been tested for Covid-19. Last month, approximately 17,000 detainees were awaiting trial or deportation in a US detention facility.
ICE raids on immigrant communities and the subsequent detentions and deportations sow distrust in public health recommendations and institutions. They also force people into conditions that threaten to spread the virus. Trust is broken when governments order everyone to avoid non-essential activities while simultaneously continuing to raid immigrant and communities of color, separate families, and detain and deport individuals.
The raids, detentions, and deportations conducted by the federal government put us all at risk, create distrust, and lead to overcrowding and unnecessary movement.
Immigrants are already reluctant to access health care due to fear of deportation. It is likely that these raids lead community members to avoid necessary treatment if experiencing symptoms of Covid-19. This reasonable response to unreasonable, contradictory orders and actions on the part of the federal government puts immigrants, their communities, and all of society at unnecessary risk at a critical, uncertain time.
In addition, these raids disobey public health recommendations and orders to shelter in place and practice physical distancing. While shelter in place orders allow individuals to conduct tasks “essential” for survival such as buying food, all other movement is limited or prohibited to avoid the spread of the virus. Raids, however, involve groups of ICE agents together entering communities, taking people under force into already overcrowded detention facilities and deporting them across long distances and international borders. The movement of ICE agents, private subcontractors, and immigrants spread the virus transnationally. As of November 27, 7,567 immigrants who have passed through a US detention center tested positive for Covid-19.
At this historic moment, the actions of governments have far-reaching impacts on the health of populations, especially those who are most vulnerable. The virus in the United States has impacted almost 12 million people with over 283,000 deaths. This number is increasing drastically every day. The raids, detentions, and deportations conducted by the federal government put us all at risk, create distrust, and lead to overcrowding and unnecessary movement. These actions threaten to overwhelm our public health system and fan the flames of the pandemic. As we enter another wave of Covid infections this winter, we have an opportunity to set our priorities straight. In order to survive, we must follow public health recommendations by stopping ICE raids, detentions, and deportations. Our lives and our society depend on it.
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