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May 6, 2020 – The following statement is from Laura Rivera, director of SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) following the first reported death of an individual in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody from COVID-19:   

We mourn the death of this man and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones. His senseless death should weigh heavily on the conscience of those who took him into custody and knowingly exposed him to fatal danger inside a place that doctors and public health experts have compared to a ‘death trap.’

The U.S. government has played judge, jury and executioner in this wholly avoidable and unnecessary loss of life. 

The truth is, no immigrant should be confined to answer for civil immigration matters. The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the life-and-death stakes migrants face in confinement. This antipathy towards human life should be beneath us. Instead, our nation has embraced the craven devaluing of human life at a time when our survival has never been more intertwined. This tragedy is the result of this administration’s vile and racist response to the pandemic that should alarm and activate every American.

The government has chosen to rank human life on the basis of race, ethnicity and country of origin. Its decision to cage our immigrant friends, neighbors and family members in deadly detention camps lurches our country down an ugly path that holds untold suffering and egregious human rights violations. 

The Trump administration and its enforcement agencies have been indifferent to the death and suffering of immigrants both at the border and in its prisons across the country; the pandemic only exacerbates this cruel indifference. This individual was not the first to perish in ICE detention, and unless we swiftly correct course, they will be far from the last.  

The needless detention of tens of thousands of immigrants underscores a cruel immigration system rooted in racism and xenophobia. Immigrants shouldn’t be forced to resolve their civil immigration matters from behind bars in deadly detention centers. We should instead extend grace and compassion to our immigrant friends and free them so they can protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus. 

We must remain vigilant and steadfast in our urgency to release every last person who remains caged by this merciless agency. Our window to avoid total calamity and more loss of life is quickly dwindling.  

We must free them all now.

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The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, visit www.splcenter.org.