ICE Must Stop Enforcement during the Pandemic

By Juan Gomez

On March 18, 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced it would largely be halting immigration enforcement in response to the spread of COVID-19 and noted that immigrants should not avoid seeking health care for fear of deportation. At the time, the United States had just reported over 8,400 confirmed cases in all 50 states and more than 140 deaths nationwide. Nearly six months later, the pandemic continues to rage across the nation, with the United States now reporting over 6.8 million cases and 200,000 deaths. 

Despite the very damaging threats to public health, ICE resumed immigration enforcement in mid-July. Just last month, ICE arrested Alicia Flores Gonzalez, a mother of four U.S. citizen children, and within 24 hours ICE deported her from the country. Ms. Flores was apprehended by immigration enforcement after dropping her daughter off at child care and going to work. By ICE’s own admission, more than 300 of their 2,000+ apprehensions in July and August were of individuals with no criminal record. Moreover, many who were arrested and had a criminal record or pending charges had only minor offenses. 

Actions taken early in the Trump Administration made all undocumented immigrants a priority for deportation and rolled back protective policies, including those that considered the interests of parents and guardians of citizen children and those with lawful permanent resident (or green card) status. 

The arrest and deportation of Ms. Flores will continue to have lasting impacts on her and her children. Over 5 million children in the United States have at least one undocumented parent, and family separation represents one of the greatest risks to their health and wellbeing. The constant exposure to toxic stress caused by even the threat of potential immigration enforcement undermines child development. This is true at any time. Yet, ramping up enforcement during a pandemic is particularly reprehensible. In addition to the public health risks for individuals in detention settings, immigrant families are facing increased economic insecurity and stress because they are overrepresented among the unemployed, and many have been excluded from Congressional relief efforts. 

The collective future of our country depends on all of us. Children in immigrant families—like all children—deserve to be healthy, safe, and secure. Immigrant communities face a higher risk in contracting the virus and have disproportionately felt the burden of this pandemic. When immigrant families fear immigration enforcement and its consequences and refrain from seeking COVID-19 testing or treatment, our collective public health is put at risk. 
The United States can only recover from this pandemic if policymakers include immigrants and all communities in public health and economic relief efforts. In the interest of public health and child wellbeing, ICE should halt all immigration enforcement and use alternatives to detention to keep immigrants safe during the pandemic. Congress must pass COVID-19 legislation providing financial relief for all families—including immigrant families and their children who have been largely excluded from previous relief bills—and ensure immigrants are eligible for health care services.
To support families in your community who may be harmed by immigration enforcement, please see CLASP’s immigration raid resources here.