Senate Testimony on “Examining Best Practices for Incarceration and Detention During COVID-19”

June 9, 2020

Advancing Justice | AAJC submitted this testimony to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary outlining concerns about the treatment of detainees.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC (Advancing Justice | AAJC) submitted testimony for the record for the public hearing entitled, “Examining Best Practices for Incarceration and Detention During COVID-19” held on June 2, 2020 by the U.S. Senate,  Committee on the Judiciary in Washington, D.C.

Advancing Justice | AAJC sought to draw the committee’s attention to our concerns about the treatment and care of detainees as our country battles with COVID-19. Moreover, we expressed our serious concerns about the United States detention system as a whole. Immigrant detention should be a last resort, not the norm; however, the Department of Homeland Security continues to increase the number of detained immigrants despite there being adequate, cost-effective, and more humane alternatives. The U.S. government should do everything in its power to keep families together and only take away people’s liberty when there is a compelling need to do so. The current immigration detention system only serves to separate families and violate the rights of vulnerable populations including children. Detention centers have never been safe and continue to provide inadequate medical care leading to human rights abuses. These concerns have only increased during this pandemic as detainees, particularly those with health conditions, are vulnerable to COVID-19. We urge Congress ​to not let these human rights abuses continue, to release immigrant detainees, particularly those with preexisting conditions, and stop the expansion and use of detention centers to criminalize immigrant communities.

Detention centers have always provided inadequate medical care, and have never been safe for detainees. In many instances, they are even life-threatening for immigrants especially during COVID-19. On May 6, 2020, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia was the first immigrant detainee to die in ICE custody after contracting COVID-19. He was detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center which is run by CoreCivic, a private prison corporation. Carlos had lived in the United States for over four decades. Before his passing, he was feeling sick, fearful for his health, and asked for medical attention. Carlos had a history of medical conditions that made him extremely vulnerable to COVID-19 including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, and an amputated foot. Even before COVID-19, Otay Mesa did not provide adequate medical care, and the problem has only been exacerbated during this pandemic.

The lives of nearly 40,000 immigrants and asylum seekers are at stake. Every day that our current immigration enforcement system continues is another day that the federal government is a part of a system of abuse that criminalizes and harms immigrant communities. We urge Congress to stop these human rights abuses and prevent a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak that could lead to the loss of thousands of lives under our current immigration enforcement and detention system. We should turn to community-based solutions that help keep our immigrant communities strong and vibrant.