Now ICE: Law enforcement group forced to scale back removing illegal immigrants during crisis

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Acting Deputy Secretary of The Department of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli gave a statement on Thursday, March 19. Cuccinelli sought to clarify a statement from Immigration and Customs  Enforcement (ICE) which stated it was “halting most deportations due to [COVID-19] outbreak.”

Cuccinelli pledged deportations would continue but with greater safety measures and precautions.

He further added:

“In light of widespread misreporting, clarification of ICE’s recent announcement during the COVID-19 situation is needed.”

With U.S. Immigration Offices closing until April over fear of the virus, it’s not science, itself, to determine ICE’s statement to be open, at least, for some interpretation.

ICE indicated on Wednesday that its Enforcement and Removal Operations, otherwise referred to as ERO, would “focus on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.”

Exactly what criminal grounds, and to what end it defines public safety risks, can only be located on its website.

ICE did state, however:

“For individuals who do not fall into those categories, ERO will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.”

A Press Release on the same date said ICE’s highest priorities are to “promote life-saving and public safety activities.”

All of these statements, while indeed necessary to ensure the public is aware of safeguards ICE is taking to protect the lives of innocent Americans, still seem somewhat unclear.

However, in the same press release, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement indicated Homeland Security would continue to maintain national security in the worst-case scenarios of the highest degrees of crimes.

The included crimes are those involving gang activities, human smuggling and trafficking, child exploitation, narcotics trafficking, and all issues and crimes on which it is working in concert with the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

The statement provided some source of clarification of what it considers to be maintaining national security. In fact, ICE ensured it used the word “clarification” instead of the word “change” in any of its temporary adjustments in enforcement posturing.

Though this information is helpful in defining certain public safety risks, the question remained whether or not ICE is or will be shutting down deportations during the COVID-19 crisis.

Reporter Lori Cooper was unable to reach anyone at ICE due to the agency’s announcing two days previously that it had closed its office until April, 2020. Only a tip line was available via recording.

On its website, ICE continues to maintain its work and will continue based on its ability to coordinate efforts with prosecutors from the Department of Justice and “intake at both the U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Prisons.”

Further, it has maintained in accordance with its sensitive locations policy during the COVID-19 crisis that it will also not carry-out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities such as hospitals, accredited health-care clinics, doctors’ offices, and emergency and urgent care facilities except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

ICE further advised that individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they may fear civil immigration enforcement. It should be noted, however, that ICE does not conduct enforcement operations at medical facilities except under “extraordinary circumstances,” likely those national security worst-case scenarios of the highest degrees of crimes referred to earlier, but as of this writing, cannot be confirmed.

These circumstances are at least answers to some, albeit not all, of the plaguing questions Americans are seeking with respect to ICE’s management of those worst-case offenders in custody, and who may otherwise be in a position of deportation.

ICE’s website indicates it has revised the process for filing Form I-246, which is the “Application for Stay of Deportation of Removal.” Its position is that it will temporarily permit the filing of Form I-246 through the mail, “accompanied by money orders, certified funds, or requests for fee waivers only.”

ICE has also revised the timeline for those who have been released from the Southwest Border. Before March 18, those released had to schedule reporting for their initial check-in with a local field office within 30 days of release.

Now, however, illegals released from the Southwest Border are required to report to a local field office 60 days after release.

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Additionally, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises self-monitoring at home for people in a community who meet risk criteria, in detention settings, detainees at risk of exposure are housed separately from the general population in isolation to prevent the spread to other individuals and the general public.

ICE transports individuals with moderate to severe symptoms or those requiring higher levels of care or monitoring to appropriate hospitals with expertise in high risk care.

Comprehensive protocols are in place for the protection of staff and patients, including the appropriate use of personal protective equipment in accordance with CDC Guidelines.

ICE has maintained a Pandemic workforce protection plan since February, 2014, and more recently has updated its plan.

It provides for biological threats such as COVID-19. Further, ICE maintains its Occupational Safety and Health Office is in contact with relevant offices within The Department of Homeland Security, which provided additional guidance to address assumed risks and interim workplace controls, including use of personal protective equipment.

According to the CDC, ICE testing for COVID-19 complies with its guidance and shares these COVID-19 guidance protocols with field units on a real-time basis. Subjects selected for testing follow CDC’s definition of a person under investigation.

As of March 17, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in ICE detention facilities. Like other law enforcement agencies with a detained population, ICE has temporarily suspended social visitations in all of its detention facilities.

ICE reviews CDC guidance daily and continues to update protocols to remain consistent with CDC guidance and will continue to collaborate with the CDC and its network to provide updates and revise procedures as necessary.

By Lori Cooper

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