Social distancing is nearly impossible to do in Iowa's jails and overcrowded prisons.

So to slow the spread of COVID-19, three dozen legal and advocacy organizations, attorneys, and law firms today asked Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release certain detained people and to refrain from detaining others. 

Although ICE, a federal agency, doesn't have any detention facilities of its own in Iowa, it contracts with Iowa county jails to hold people whose immigration cases are pending.

A letter sent to the regional director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE’s operations in Iowa, asks that ICE release immigrants who are already in detention, especially those who are medically most vulnerable to COVID-19. It also asks ICE to avoid new detentions. The goal is to prevent the spread of the disease among immigrants, other people in jails, the people who work in county jails, and the surrounding community.

The letter urges ICE to take four immediate actions:

  • Suspend ICE enforcement activity at medical and other sensitive locations. 
  • Review all the cases of people currently in ICE custody in Iowa and identify those who should be released because of age or medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
  • Make sure that anyone who is still detained has adequate, free access to health care, hygiene products, and telephone and other communication services, including confidential calls with attorneys.
  • Attorneys representing ICE should stop their practice of resisting bond requests.

The more people ICE targets and detains in Iowa during the COVID-19 pandemic, the more deadly the consequences could be for detainees, correctional staff, and our communities. Action must be taken as soon as possible.