Democrats introduce legislation to release detainees and stop ICE enforcement

Jason Hopkins, DCNF

Democrats are introducing legislation that, if signed into law, would mandate the release of illegal aliens in detention and stop enforcement measures against a large number of aliens living unlawfully in the United States.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal introduced the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act on Monday. While many Democratic members of Congress have urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for a rollback of enforcement measures amid the coronavirus pandemic, this bill marks one of the first instances where they are turning such concerns into legislative action.

“Detention centers are like a ticking time bomb — they are severely at risk for a COVID-19 outbreak, considering the close quarters in which detainees are housed and a population with much higher rates of underlying health issues,” Booker said in a Monday press release. 

He continued: “We have an obligation to do everything we can to prevent the spread of this deadly disease, and that means moving people out of detention centers when they do not pose a public safety risk.”

The FIRST Act would release most immigrants out of detention facilities and stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from targeting at-large illegal aliens who are “not deemed a significant public safety risk” during the coronavirus health emergency.

Notably, ICE has already announced that it would scale back its enforcement and removal operations against those who do not pose serious risks to the community. However, the bill would have sweeping effects on the immigrant detainee population in the United States.

There are 33,863 foreign nationals detained by ICE, according to the agency’s most recent numbers. Of these, 14,049 are listed as convicted criminals, and another 4,646 have pending criminal charges.

“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,” said Jayapal, the bill’s other sponsor.

She added: “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.”

There is a growing number of ICE detainees who have tested positive for COVID-19 — more than 70 since Monday. Additionally, hundreds of DHS employees themselves have tested positive for the virus, and thousands of other employees have been quarantined due to possible exposure.

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