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Doctors Call for Immigrants’ Release from Detention During COVID-19

Cleveland, OH – In a letter to Governor Mike DeWine, Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights First, and Amnesty International USA call for the release of Ohio immigrants and asylum seekers under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, in the interest of public health.

The release of these individuals from detention is both necessary and legally authorized. Detaining large numbers of men, women and children in immigration facilities or county and local jails and prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic not only places detained immigrants and staff at severe risk but also threatens the health and safety of the broader public.

The letter cites warnings from numerous doctors with experience in providing medical care in jails and prisons. The former chief medical officer of the New York City jail system, Dr. Homer Venters, said: “Coronavirus in these settings will dramatically increase the epidemic curve, not flatten it.” Ohio has an opportunity to learn from the COVID-19 outbreaks in Chinese and Iranian prisons, and release incarcerated people to avoid them here. 

The letter points out that “the Trump Administration has now recommended that gatherings of ten or more be avoided,” a recommendation not currently in force in Ohio’s jails and prisons. 

Lynn Tramonte, Director of Ohio Immigrant Alliance, said:

Releasing as many people as possible from jail is a necessary response to this crisis, including those in criminal custody and immigrants in so-called ‘civil’ detention. It is still jail, and it is still a Petri dish for infectious disease. Cuyahoga County has taken steps to reduce its incarcerated population, and Hamilton County is expected to as well. More counties in Ohio need to do this for the sake of public health, including those that currently house immigration detainees (Butler, Seneca, Geauga, and Morrow). Our state and local officials must take bold steps to address this before it’s too late.

Immigrants, lawyers, and allies are proposing a COVID-19 agenda to keep the community safe, and release from detention is a cornerstone of that policy. Read about the agenda here. Read the complete letter from Physicians for Human Rights, Human Rights First, and Amnesty International USA here.

In The Hill today Dr. Ranit Mishori, a senior medical advisor at Physicians for Human Rights and professor of family medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, writes:

Picture what could happen. On the one hand, there is a captive population. On the other hand, there is a revolving door of exposure. The guards come and go; health staff come and go; visitors come and go; food workers come and go. 

All can potentially carry infection with them, in either direction. A coronavirus brought into a detention facility can quickly spread among the dense detainee cohort. Soon enough many are sick — including high-risk groups such as pregnant women or those with chronic conditions — quickly overwhelming the already strained health infrastructure within the facility.

Ohio, let’s PICTURE it, and then take the necessary steps to PREVENT it.