Immigration in Pandemic Times Vol. 1, No. 6

Although many states have begun re-opening businesses and life is starting to return to normal, minorities continue to face the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • A video posted on June 5 shows HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) officers shoving a peacefully protesting, unarmed Puerto Rican man to the ground in a New York City George Floyd rally. The officials in question were part of the team deployed by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to help the New York Police Department during the protests against police brutality. Although they did not have a warrant, the officials pointed three guns at the man, cuffed him, and thoroughly searched him. Legally, HSI officers are not required have permission to search or make arrests because they are a division of ICE; however, they claim that they refrain from arrests in “sensitive locations,” such as schools or courthouses. In a later statement, a representative of HSI alleged that the event was not immigration related, and that the officials had attacked the Puerto Rican man because they believed he was carrying a weapon. However, because the man was of Puerto Rican descent, some believe the attack was a consequence of racial profiling. In order to prevent inevitable bias in such arrests, groups such as The Immigrant Defense Project are pushing for a Protect Our Courts Act, which would require ICE to obtain warrants. In some states such as New York, where a federal judge has ruled against ICE courthouse arrests, people are already trying to implement legislation to limit the power of these government agencies.
  • On Friday, June 5, ICE claimed that a current hunger strike in the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Bakersfield was caused by outside coercion from an attorney, citing an anonymous source. The agency added that there were allegations that a detainee had been threatened by others in the processing facility if he did not participate. ICE further claims that the Mesa Verde detainees had stated that they were striking against the facility’s meal cycles. Contrary to ICE’s statement, however, some participants state that they are striking due to ICE’s response (or lack of response) to COVID-19 in detention centers. Others stated that they had begun protesting against the “corrupt racist and criminal justice system” evident in the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, and Oscar Grant, as well as in their own experiences. Furthermore, Centro Legal de la Raza, the organization that had announced the strike on June 4, denounced ICE’s allegations. An attorney who works in the organization, Lisa Knox, accused ICE of being racist in their accusations towards the detainees who had participated in the hunger strike, as the majority were black immigrants

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  • Further, 70 detainees in Arizona’s La Palma ICE facility are speaking out about the steps that ICE is taking to handle COVID-19 in detention centers, stating that the agency forced them to clean an infected facility. In a letter sent to the legal advocacy group, Florence Immigrants & Refugees Rights Project, the migrants begged for help in what was described as a “…life or death situation.” The company that oversees the center, CoreCivic, disproved the letter’s claims, stating that the migrant’s work was purely voluntary. Further, CoreCivic refuted the migrant’s complaints that the facility was not providing adequate PPE (personal protective equipment) for the migrants that cleaned the kitchen, stating that all detainees were properly equipped. Although the letter spoke about threats, possible lock-ins, and solitary confinement if they refused to clean the facility, the company labeled these measures as necessary for security and safety, calling solitary confinement “administrative segregation,” valid under ICE regulations. Moreover, despite the migrants’ complaints about the facility’s lack of hygiene, rotten food, and no enforcement of COVID-19 safety regulations, CoreCivic continues to maintain that La Palma upholds ICE’s standards. It should be noted that although CoreCivic has said that there are no active cases of COVID-19 in La Palma ICE facility, ICE’s count shows 78 positive cases at the center as of June 7.
  • On top of these expected changes, the Trump administration revealed an additional proposal on June 10 to further weaken the asylum system. The proposed policy would allow immigration judges to throw out an asylum seeker’s application before a hearing if there are flaws, despite the fact that many details strengthening an asylum seeker’s case come out during asylum hearings. The proposed rule lists factors that would be considered negatively in an application, including traveling through another country before requesting asylum in the U.S., living in the U.S. for more than a year before filing, and a failure to file taxes in the U.S. This proposal seems to fundamentally aim at limiting immigration.

Photo Credit: Moody College of Communication

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