These Florida ICE Facilities Are Refusing To Shut Down

Immigrant activists

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By Giselle Balido

March 19, 2020

Despite the fast spread of coronavirus and the CDC’s recommendations to stop in-person check-ins, immigrants are still braving long lines in some ICE offices.

Immigrants who could be at risk of contracting COVID-19 are still reporting to the Miramar U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Broward County, where for many hours they face long lines and close contact with others who could potentially be infected with the virus. More alarmingly, they have no access to facilities where they can wash their hands, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Some may even have to take public buses—again going against CDC recommendations—to get to the facility. 

This comes after a statement issued on March 17 in which ICE assured the public that it is taking steps to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus by rescheduling and reducing all in-person appointments of non-detained aliens on a case-by-case basis. But despite public clamor and the efforts of a group of activists to suspend all check-ins, the Miramar facility has remained open, going against the CDC’s recommendations, as well as other ICE facilities in the state.

On Wednesday, one day after the new protocol was approved, there were long lines at the outside of the building. Some could be seen reaching the streets, many with elderly individuals, who have been identified by the CDC as at higher risk for coronavirus deaths.

Following Miramar’s lead, in Miami ICE issued a statement saying it is also working to minimize the impact of COVID-19 by temporarily rescheduling and reducing in-person appointments of non-detained aliens on a case-by-case basis. Additionally, “any person with an upcoming appointment who is ill, or had close contact with someone who is ill, should contact the Miami Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) field office prior to their scheduled appointment for further guidance,” the statement continued.

According to Adonia Simpson, Director of the Family Defense Program, a non-profit organization that works to protect the basic human rights of immigrants, many immigrants don’t know they are allowed to postpone their check-ins. In addition, it’s been reported that many rescheduling requests have gone unanswered or unapproved.

On the other hand, the Orlando facility has taken a more aggressive preventive approach in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. The office will accept filings from attorney-represented immigrants, but will no longer hold physical check-ins.

Related News: ICE Temporarily Stops Enforcement Actions

In order to adjust to the growing coronavirus pandemic across the state, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Wednesday that it will limit arrests only to the most serious criminal cases, citing that it will focus its enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.

“For those individuals who do not fall into those categories, [deportation officers] will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis, or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate,” the agency said in a statement.

ICE added that nobody will be arrested at a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office. This could bring some relief to those immigrants who, afraid of deportation, avoid being tested for COVID-19 or seeking necessary medical care.  Although hospitals have long been considered “sensitive” locations where ICE arrests were disallowed except in extreme cases, immigrant-rights advocates had for weeks called for more explicit guarantees. In response to this, ICE assured the public that consistent with its sensitive location policy, during the COVID-19 crisis “it will not carry out enforcement operations at or near healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics and emergency or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.”

The statement urged individuals not to avoid seeking medical care due to fear of civil immigration enforcement.

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