March 13, 2020
Yesterday, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network issued a five point statement on justice for immigrants and workers in response to the coronavirus and COVID-19. You can read the full statement and background here. The five points:
- STOP ICE and CBP :
Enact an immediate moratorium on all ICE and CBP enforcement (detentions and deportations) to allow families, communities, localities and states to develop and implement effective community-wide responses to this public health challenge. There is no greater way to exacerbate today’s crisis with ICE and CBP hell-bent on terrorizing communities, accelerating deportations, and increasing the detained population. Instead, funds and personnel should be reassigned and redeployed to CDC, FEMA, and other emergency needs.
- DISMANTLE THE CAMPS :
Dismantle immigrant detention, concentration camps and programs such as MPP that exacerbate the public health dangers, and include a plan to return individuals to their families and receiving families. In response to COVID-19, other countries are proactively releasing thousands to their families. DHS was already unable to provide even basic sanitary conditions while deaths in their custody are mounting. Forcibly keeping tens of thousands in squalid conditions, while adding people despite the foreseeable consequences, is criminally negligent.
- MEDICINE FOR ALL :
Emergency action plans for healthcare, testing, and vaccines must be freely available to all, including undocumented workers and families. From every level of government, healthcare entity, whether public or private, we must resist dehumanization in all of its forms, and proactively address and challenge racist exploitation of the pandemic. Stigmatizing individuals or excluding them from the US coronavirus response would constitute both a serious flaw in what can only be an “all hands on deck” social effort, and it would be a dark stain on the US society.
- WORKER PROTECTIONS :
Policies on paid sick leave and unemployment insurance often exclude low wage immigrant workers whether explicitly due to legal status, or implicitly through requirements related to employer size and duration of employment. Worker protection policies must have broad coverage in order to protect all workers who most need it, especially in industries such as construction, restaurant, poultry, and others that rely on the labor of undocumented immigrant workers.
- RELIEF PARA EL PUEBLO :
Safety net programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance can be as inaccessible as airline bailouts to the undocumented and poorest. Immigrant workers and families should be able to access emergency aid programs without fear of retaliation or “public charge” repercussions. Immigrant worker and community organizations should be included in planning and implementation, to ensure that this relief reaches the community.
The statement is critically important. Any kind of compassionate response, indeed, effective response, would incorporate these points. ICE enforcement activities run the risk of discouraging people from seeking medical assistance. If incarcerated, enforcement and detention run grave risks of putting people at risk of exposure. The Guardian noted earlier this week. As “Doctors are concerned the spread of coronavirus to the US’s prison-like immigration detention centers is inevitable and will hit a system blighted by overcrowding and medical negligence.” The report from the Guardian went on further:
The internal watchdog for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees CBP and Ice, warned last year of dangerous overcrowding at a border patrol processing facility, before the coronavirus outbreak. “We are concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety not just of the detainees, but also DHS agents and officers,” the office of inspector general’s report said.
In December, US immigration officials blocked doctors from giving flu vaccines to detained migrant children, after at least three children in custody died from complications from the flu.
Dr Josiah Rich, an epidemiologist at Brown University, said one tool the US government has to prevent the spread of coronavirus is to release some of the 43,990 people in immigration detention, while their legal cases are being processed. People are held in these detention centers for civil immigration violations, not criminal charges, and the government can release them unless they are considered a danger to the community.
“If they don’t really need to be there, get them out of there,” Rich said. “Do we really need to expose them to additional health risks? And expose them to each other? and the staff?”
Which is to say, proceeding with business as usual on immigration enforcement not only exacerbates the injustices of the system, but increases public health risks. Yesterday, the government of Honduras decided to block deportation flights from Mexico. As of this writing, there was no decision on deportation flights from the United States. The problem, of course, is that there are very few cases of coronavirus throughout Latin America, and that exposure in and then deportation from the United States runs the risk of spreading it. The administration seems unconcerned. A jammed flight of 119 people were returned to Cuba last week.
Our immigrant enforcement system is quite simply a public health hazard at every step. On the streets enforcement is discouraging people from seeking health services. In detention, they run an even higher risk of infection and/or spreading disease. If deported, cross border transmission of disease is accelerated. It is unnecessary and unjust to treat people this way.
It is also dangerous to everyone.
So, we join in the call for a suspension of enforcement operations. Let people and their communities reset, and take care of themselves. It is ultimately better for everyone.