Every aspect of normal life has been infected by coronavirus, and government agencies have scrambled to put together a response. Late to the table was US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which announced some changes to its operations late-Wednesday night after almost a week of relentless media inquiries.
Attorneys and immigrants seem most concerned about enforcement operations and the conditions of prisoners in detention. Panic arose last week about whether it would be safe for immigrants to seek medical care when a man from Honduras was arrested by ICE at a Pennsylvania hospital last Thursday. The agency said this happens in only “extraordinary circumstances.”
ICE said that daily enforcement operations for civil and criminal arrests will continue, but they will prioritize individuals who “threaten our national security and public safety.” This will return enforcement operations to the Obama-era “felons not families” approach. The agency is also suspending social visitation in all detention facilities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In Massachusetts, that includes Bristol and Plymouth counties, both of which have contracts with ICE to detain immigrants. Attorneys are still able to make visits. As of January, there were a little more than 300 immigrants being held at those jails.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts has urged ICE to take measures to protect detainees incarcerated at county jails, asking the agency to align its practices with public health officials mitigating the pandemic. Legal director Matthew Segal said ICE has taken “steps in the right direction” by curbing enforcement and using alternative means to detention.