For Immediate Release: May 13, 2020
Contact: Arianna Rosales, arosales [at] ilrc.org
ILRC: HEROES Act Is a Step in the Right Direction, Congress Must Do More To Protect Immigrants in ICE Detention Centers
05.13.2020 - Yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats unveiled the "Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act" (HEROES) Act, a $3 trillion COVID-19 relief package. The package includes measures that aim to protect the tens of thousands of immigrants currently held in detention centers across the country.
The HEROES Act includes provisions that would provide people detained in ICE facilities with many basic rights and needs, such as free hand sanitizer and soap, free phone calls, the ability to fax and mail with attorneys, and the right to virtual access to know your rights presentations and materials.
The bill also calls for ICE to review the custody status of people in ICE detention to prioritize their release and use of alternatives to detention. However, the bill contains major shortcomings. It excludes from this review process all people in immigration detention who are allegedly subject to mandatory detention and gives ICE — the same agency that has continued arresting immigrants under COVID-19 — the discretion to decide who might be excluded from review. These exceptions leave life or death decisions in the hands of ICE.
Said Nithya Nathan-Pineau, Policy Attorney and Strategist at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center:
For months now, doctors, medical experts, and advocates have loudly voiced their concerns about the deadly dangers of immigration detention centers. Like in jails and prisons, physical distancing is impossible in immigration detention and ICE already has a shocking record of medical neglect.
In the wake of the death of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, the first person who needlessly died from COVID-19 while in immigration custody, it should be more clear than ever that ICE cannot be trusted with the lives of the people it systematically deprives of liberty every day, especially in the midst of this global pandemic.
Carlos was a brother, a neighbor, and a community member, and his loss was mourned by communities across the country. While we acknowledge that the HEROES Act is a step in the right direction, we call on Congress to provide stronger protections — and importantly, release — for every single community member who is currently held in these dangerous facilities or experiencing incarceration.