Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following remarks during a Democratic virtual roundtable on ICE's response to the COVID-19 pandemic:
"For most of our nation’s history, immigration matters were treated as issues of civil, not criminal justice. In that spirit, the detention of immigrants in facilities that are nearly indistinguishable from jails and prisons should be the exception, not the rule.
"Unfortunately, in our recent history, and especially under this Administration, tens of thousands of civil immigrant detainees are held in terrible conditions and for long periods. The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the deadly consequences of mass immigration detention.
"In September, the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship held a hearing in which witnesses and Members discussed how, under the Trump Administration, the number of people detained by ICE has skyrocketed, while detention conditions have deteriorated. In that hearing, we warned the agency about the imminent and dire consequences of holding immigrant detainees in inhumane conditions. Today, the outbreak of COVID-19 and its extensive spread through the ICE detention system have shown the tragic cost of ICE’s mismanagement and failure to improve conditions.
"On April 7, 2020, when Subcommittee Chair Lofgren and I wrote our letter urging ICE to release individuals who pose no threat to public safety or national security—particularly those who are at heightened risk of death or serious illness from COVID-19—there were 13 individuals who had tested positive for the virus at 8 different facilities.
"Today, after ICE largely ignored our request, there are at least 881 individuals who have tested positive in dozens of ICE facilities across this country. And because ICE lacks the capacity to test all detainees, it is likely that the number of confirmed cases is much higher.
"We have the capability to safely and compassionately process migrants, including women and children, and to ensure that individuals appear for scheduled hearings. Instead of indiscriminately detaining immigrants, ICE could employ a broad array of alternatives to detention, many of which are extraordinarily successful at ensuring attendance at immigration court hearings while also being far less expensive.
"The Trump Administration’s immigration actions and response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been ineffective as a matter of policy, and offensive as a matter of basic human decency.
"I want to thank Representative Lofgren for leading this event and I look forward to hearing from the other participants today."