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Ramped-up ICE arrests amid Covid outbreaks slammed for 'irresponsible disregard'

NBC News logo NBC News 4 days ago Nicole Acevedo

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is demanding answers from the Trump administration over ramped-up ICE arrests in at least nine states at a time when several detention facilities are battling ongoing coronavirus outbreaks.

In a letter to Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf on Friday, 22 members of the caucus, including its leaders, raised concerns over the arrests by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) of more than 200 immigrants in California, North Carolina, and Illinois over the last few weeks.

They also criticized the apprehension of more than 170 immigrants this month in Philadelphia, Denver, Seattle, New York, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, which are all sanctuary cities that tend to limit cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

a man standing in front of Jesús García, Sylvia Garcia, Joaquin Castro, Lou Correa, Ruben Gallego, Darren Soto posing for the camera: Image: Congressional Hispanic Caucus (Drew Angerer / Getty Images file) © Provided by NBC News Image: Congressional Hispanic Caucus (Drew Angerer / Getty Images file)

"This shows an irresponsible disregard for the health and safety of both ICE agents and immigrant communities," lawmakers said in the letter. "Throughout this health crisis, ICE has consistently mismanaged health protocols at its detention facilities ... Instead of providing appropriate medical care and ensuring that ICE facilities are not overcrowded and unsanitary."

Emails to DHS requesting comment did not receive an immediate response Saturday. ICE declined to comment.

The two agencies have announced hundreds of new arrests although at least 6,623 detainees, approximately 34 percent of all of those in custody, have tested positive for the coronavirus since February, according to ICE data.

As of Thursday, 728 detainees in ICE facilities were reported to be infected with the virus. The largest outbreak was reported in the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Los Angeles which has at least 178 cases.

Hispanic Caucus Chairman Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said President Donald Trump and his administration are "weaponizing the power of the state to inflict cruelty on immigrants and their families to whip up racial resentment."

"This will be a losing political strategy. Latinos and immigrants have always been his go-to scapegoats, but now President Trump has a clear record of failure, abdicating his fundamental responsibility to protect the American people from a pandemic that has killed over 218,000 Americans," Castro told NBC News in a statement. "Folks are not afraid of their neighbors, they’re worried about contracting the coronavirus and lacking access to the same health care as the President."

Castro said he has conducted multiple oversight visits to ICE detention centers and that the Trump administration’s immigration policies are "risking the lives of people detained."

The arrests in Denver, Seattle, New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia, occurred between Oct. 3 through Oct. 9 — the same week that ICE launched a billboard campaign in Pennsylvania, a crucial 2020 battleground state, showing the faces of six immigrants who had been recently arrested and released by local authorities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

In the letter, lawmakers said the billboard campaign was an act of "deploying government resources to target sanctuary cities" instead of "focusing on public safety and national security."

ICE said in a news release that the six immigrants depicted in the campaign were not in the country legally. Five of the six men had been charged, but not convicted, for crimes such as public intoxication, disorderly conduct, robbery and aggravated assault, among others.

The International Rescue Committee, a nongovernmental humanitarian aid organization, has estimated that "ICE is dramatically under-reporting Covid-19 cases by a factor of fifteen on average."

Olga Byrne, director of immigration at the committee, said in a statement in August that she received reports from clients released by ICE saying "they were detained in crowded rooms and unsanitary conditions, not being tested at all and being isolated according to the whims of ICE agents rather than any clear public health prerogatives."

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