Bennet, Merkley Introduce Legislation to Halt Transfer of ICE Detainees, Slow Spread of COVID-19 in ICE Facilities

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced the End Transfers of Detained Immigrants Act, legislation to immediately prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from transferring immigrant detainees between ICE facilities or to federal, state, and local prisons during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The legislation also requires that if physical distancing inside ICE facilities is not possible, that individuals be released to ensure adherence to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

Over 20,000 immigrants are held in detention centers and prisons across the country and 100 immigrant detention facilities have confirmed cases of COVID-19. To slow the spread of the virus, CDC and public health experts have recommended that detention facilities and prisons stop transferring detained immigrants and incarcerated individuals between facilities except in unique circumstances.

“The transfer of immigrants in ICE custody further threatens their health and unnecessarily risks spreading COVID-19 within ICE facilities throughout the country,” said Bennet. “Prior to the pandemic, there were concerns of overcrowding, limited supply of hygiene products, medical neglect, and generally poor living conditions for detained immigrants. I am deeply concerned about the increased challenges that COVID-19 places on detention facilities throughout the United States, particularly the facilities already violating detention standards prior to the pandemic. This legislation would put an end to ICE’s liberal use of transfers between facilities, reducing the likelihood of catching and spreading the virus for the immigrants living in these conditions.”

“In one fell swoop, the Trump administration has combined its mind-blowing incompetence managing the coronavirus and its depraved treatment of people seeking a better life in America,” said Merkley. “Families have been separated, while others are forced to return to dangerous conditions in Mexico to await their immigration hearings in America. And now, people are being transferred between ICE detention facilities in the middle of a pandemic—defying CDC recommendations, and leading to preventable outbreaks of the coronavirus. Enough is enough. The American people want a fair, compassionate system that respects the dignity of all people, and real leadership based on science in the face of the coronavirus. The need for this bill speaks to the depths of this administration’s failures.”

In May, Bennet and Merkley joined U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and 15 Senate colleagues demanding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) take immediate steps to halt the transfer of individuals in ICE custody to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In July, Bennet pressed DHS and ICE to fix the unjust immigration enforcement and detention policies the Trump Administration continues to enforce during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The bill text is available HERE.