In the midst of California’s COVID-19 lockdown, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers are continuing to make arrests, despite calls from immigration advocates for a suspension of enforcement activities.
To limit the spread of COVID-19, Los Angeles has shut down a range of public services and business, including libraries, movie theaters, clubs, gyms, and concert venues. Governor Gavin Newsom has called for all restaurants statewide to suspend dine-in services and expects schools to remain closed until the fall. But ICE officers are continuing to operate almost as normal.
Immigration advocates have raised concerns about the potential spread of the coronavirus in crowded detention centers. In Colorado, ten people have been isolated at the Aurora detention center due to possible COVID-19 exposure. “I am honestly horrified at the thought that the virus could spread uncontrollably in this and other detention facilities,” said Ana Rodríguez, an organizer with the nonprofit Colorado People’s Alliance. “Detainees and their loved ones shouldn’t have to worry about whether their loved ones will survive detention.”
Those arrested by ICE worry about how their families will fare without them as the coronavirus pandemic progresses. “I’m the head of the house,” said Pedro Castillo Bravo, detained by ICE officers as he left his house for work and a trip to the grocery store. “If they have me here locked up, what about rent and food?”
ICE has stated they are taking precautions—officers have been issued protective N95 respirator masks, visitation by family members has been suspended at detention centers, and officials are considering delaying people’s monthly in-person ICE check-ins. But they have no plans to stop arrests.
Other immigration agencies have seen more dramatic changes as officials scramble to reduce the spread of the virus. The Justice Department has closed 11 immigration courts around the country, including the Los Angeles Olive Street Immigration Court, and has postponed all hearings for immigrants who are not currently in detention. US Citizenship and Immigration Services has halted all in-person services, including naturalization ceremonies and asylum interviews.
Sources: Los Angeles Times 3/17/20; New York Post 3/17/20; Amnesty International 3/17/20; Colorado Independent 3/17/20; CNN 3/18/20