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Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have identified 600 detainees for possible release because they have been deemed “vulnerable” to the coronavirus, according to an email sent by the agency to congressional staffers on Tuesday. More than 160 have already been released as part of the effort.
Advocates have pushed ICE to release certain immigrants with underlying medical issues and to scale back arrests, saying detention facilities were ripe for mass infections and casualties. There are currently more than 35,000 immigrants in ICE custody at private and local jails.
“Due to the unprecedented nature of novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reviewing cases of individuals in detention who may be vulnerable to the virus,” an agency official told congressional staffers in an email Tuesday. ICE is relying on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical experts in making case-by-case determinations for release, the notice added.
“The agency has instructed its field offices to further assess and consider for release certain individuals deemed to be at greater risk of exposure, consistent with CDC guidelines, reviewing cases of individuals 60 years old and older, as well as those who are pregnant,” the notice stated. “Additionally, efforts to identify other individuals who may be more vulnerable to COVID-19, based on risk factors identified by the CDC, other than age and pregnancy, are ongoing, based on the recommendations of CDC. ICE continues to re-evaluate all individuals in custody who make up vulnerable populations.”
The agency confirmed the details of the email and provided the information on the process to BuzzFeed News.
Last week, a federal judge ordered the immediate release of 10 immigrants, saying it would be “unconscionable and possibly barbaric” to keep the chronically ill detainees in jails where they could be exposed to the coronavirus.
ICE has reported that 20 detainees in its custody across the country have tested positive for COVID-19.