Media Contact

Veronica Lorson Fowler, ACLU of Iowa Communications Director

April 16, 2020

Des Moines, Iowa — Today 37 Iowa legal and advocacy organizations, attorneys, and law firms asked Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by not detaining people in Iowa jails.

ICE does not have any federal detention facilities in Iowa. Instead, ICE, a federal agency, contracts with Iowa county jails to hold people whose immigration cases are pending.

The ACLU and others sent a letter to the regional director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE’s operations in Iowa. It asks that ICE release immigrants who are already in detention, especially those who are medically most vulnerable to COVID-19, and 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.

"In short, the more people ICE targets and detains during the COVID-19 pandemic, the more deadly the consequences might be for detainees, correctional staff, and others," the letter states.

According to the letter, "The lives and health of thousands of people in detention in Iowa jails, ICE officers, Iowa jail staff, and the public in the broader community are at stake. We urge you to act now to prevent an outbreak, which would stretch our local health care system to the breaking point."

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 those who continue to be detained have 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.

ACLU of Iowa Staff Attorney Shefali Aurora said, “It’s essential that immigrants are not put in the position of having to avoid care they need at medical facilities because of the threat of deportation. And ICE must immediately reduce the number of those in detention, particularly those at heightened risk of serious illness from COVID-19 through compassionate release and community-based alternatives to detention.”

In addition to the ACLU of Iowa Foundation, those signing onto the letter are:

  • Trinity Las Americas United Methodist
  • Latinos Unidos
  • Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Latinas Unidas para un Nuevo Amanecer (LUNA)
  • Lori Chesser, Davis Brown Law Firm
  • Iowa CURE
  • Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement
  • Christopher Foster, Foster Law Office
  • Project Iowa
  • League of Women Voters of Iowa
  • Crisis Intervention Service
  • Al Exito
  • Center for Worker Justice
  • Refugee Alliance of Central Iowa
  • Justice for Our Neighbors
  • Iowa Coalition for Collective Change
  • Des Moines Showing Up for Racial Justice
  • The Image Program
  • One Iowa
  • Dream Iowa
  • Rape Victim Advocacy Program
  • Interfaith Alliance of Iowa
  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa
  • LULAC national
  • Iowa Welcomes Immigrant Neighbors
  • Transformations Iowa
  • Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • Transgender Voter Network
  • Regret No Opportunities
  • Just Voices Iowa
  • Monsoon Asians & Pacific Islanders in Solidarity
  • Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition
  • Jessica Malott, Vondra & Malott
  • Law Offices of Sonia Parras
  • Trey Sucher Law
  • Argueta and Gomez Law Offices

The letter asking that officials release people from custody because of COVID-19 concerns is the second such letter that the ACLU has sent recently. Earlier this month, it also joined with a number of advocacy organizations to send a letter to law enforcement and corrections officials throughout the state, asking for early release of people in Iowa's jails and overcrowded prisons, also to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those held as well as the thousands of other Iowans who work in jails, prisons, or in law enforcement.