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SACRAMENTO, April 13, 2020 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf urging the Trump Administration to take immediate action to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in immigration detention facilities. Based on the California Department of Justice’s review of detention facilities in California, the Attorney General calls on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to consider alternatives to detention to protect the health and well-being of individuals in civil immigration detention and surrounding communities.

“Our communities are facing an unprecedented threat, and all of us must take affirmative steps to minimize it,” said Attorney General Becerra.“I urge Acting Secretary Wolf to take action to prevent the unnecessary loss of life. Failure to act will not only harm immigrants in civil detention, it could also impact community hospitals that will need to mobilize a medical response if nothing is done. It’s going to take all of us working together to get through this challenge and we’re asking the federal government to do what’s right.”

Many immigration detainees have no criminal histories and many are new arrivals seeking asylum. Alarmingly, there are also individuals in these facilities who have medical conditions that put them at a higher risk for developing serious illness from COVID-19 and there have already been reports of infections in one of the immigration detention facilities in California. Urgent action is required to prevent the unnecessary loss of life.

In the letter, Attorney General Becerra calls on Acting Secretary Wolf to immediately identify and release detainees who pose no risk to public safety, such as those without significant criminal histories or pending criminal charges, and to prioritize those who are in fragile health. These commonsense measures reduce the risk to human life for workers and detainees in these detention facilities in a manner that balances any public safety concerns associated with such releases.

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The letter also calls on DHS to take the following steps to protect detainees who cannot be released from custody:

  • Limit the transfer or transport of detainees and halt the introduction of new detainees to immigration detention facilities, requiring a 14-day quarantine for any detainee for whom transfer or admission is unavoidable;
  • Obtain COVID-19 test kits and conduct comprehensive testing of staff and the detained population in order to avoid transmission, using temperature and other vital statistics screens while waiting for such tests to become available;
  • Obtain protective equipment such as masks, gloves, soap, and cleaning products for detainees and staff, and educate detainees and staff about how to minimize transmission, taking care to ensure that language minorities also receive this vital information; and
  • Improve sanitation; increase availability of cleaning supplies and sanitizer; and alter schedules, meal delivery, and physical space in detention facilities for remaining detainees while taking care not to further curtail detainees’ liberty within the facilities.

A copy of the letter is available here.