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Contact NIJC Communications Director Tara Tidwell Cullen at (312) 833-2967 or by email.

Ensuring Communities’ Safety During Pandemic Means Allowing Immigrants and Asylum Seekers to Reunite with Families, Not Trapping them in Dangerous Conditions

The New York Times reported Tuesday night that the Trump administration is planning to close the U.S. border to asylum seekers in light of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and on Wednesday morning the White House submitted a request to Congress for $249 million for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to “convert four facilities into dedicated quarantine facilities along the Southwest border and provide for enhanced sanitation and janitorial services” and $567 million for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to “fund up to nine migrant quarantine facilities along the Southwest border.”

NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy issued the following statement in response:

“Right now, our world’s wellbeing relies on everyone having access to safety, shelter, and community support networks so we may all follow public health guidance that protects all of us. Closing the border to asylum seekers and quarantining immigrants in prisons are morally abhorrent panders to xenophobia that are in no way rooted in advice from public health professionals. All of our communities are at risk during this time of pandemic; among the most vulnerable are asylum seekers who already have been put at risk by the administration’s “Remain in Mexico” program and other policies, and the people who are trapped in deadly ICE and CBP jails. Even under normal circumstances, ICE and CBP have a long and shameful track record of endangering the health of the people in their detention centers and hiding information about conditions in their jails. Giving these agencies hundreds of millions of dollars to keep people locked up in the midst of a global pandemic is absurd and a potential death sentence for countless migrants and asylum seekers.

Public health experts have recommended reducing prison and detention populations and have called for the release of as many immigrants as possible from ICE custody to safety in the community. ICE also must halt enforcement operations so that communities can focus on their families’ health and seek medical care without fear.

“Congress must reject the White House’s request for more ICE and CBP money and prioritize the expansion of treatment for all rather than wall off and detain migrants and asylum seekers. The administration must comply with U.S. and international law that prohibits the exclusion of asylum seekers and use existing legal mechanisms--which ICE and CBP used regularly prior to this administration--to allow asylum seekers and detained immigrants to safely unite with family members waiting for them into the United States.”