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“Simply Stunning” and “Medically Dangerous” to Keep Ohio Immigrants in Jail During COVID-19

State Should Not Let Feds Dictate Public Health Priorities

Cleveland, OH – In the battle against COVID-19, more and more courts in Ohio are declining to incarcerate people, or are releasing them from jails, in the name of public health. Thousands of doctors and medical professionals have warned that dramatically reducing the jail population is a vital step toward “flattening the curve” of this disease. 

To date, however, the hundreds of immigrants held in four county jails across Ohio have not been considered for release. They are being held in what is legally called “civil” immigration detention, although it is jail for all intents and purposes. One of the main differences, though, is that the decision to keep these immigrants detained could be reversed by an administrative agency tomorrow, without a court process. 

It could be, but so far this has not happened. 

“The fact that immigrants remain detained in Ohio during this pandemic, with doctors warning at the top of their lungs that we need to reduce the number of people living in close quarters, is simply stunning and medically dangerous,” said Lynn Tramonte, Director of Ohio Immigrant Alliance. “Even during a pandemic, the federal immigration agencies insist on putting their rabid, anti-immigrant agenda ahead of public health. The State of Ohio and the county jails that house immigration detainees must refuse to let the federal government dictate priorities at a time like this.”

This afternoon, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor added her voice to the chorus of experts recommending release of people currently in Ohio jails. It is unclear whether her recommendations would apply to federal immigration detainees, however, as they are not under the jurisdiction of state or local courts, but are still being held in jails in Butler, Seneca, Geauga, and Morrow counties. 

“Many immigrants could be released from jail tomorrow,” added Tramonte. “But it will only happen if Ohio leaders step in.” 

The inmate releases already taking place make it clear that Ohio jails too many people who simply do not need to be there. The Columbus Dispatch points out: “the sudden decline in jail populations around the state, combined with assurances from officials that dangerous people aren’t being turned loose, is likely to lead to questions down the road about whether similarly aggressive steps should have been taken long ago.” 

Administrative Judge Ted Barrows with the Franklin County Municipal Court said: “When we come out of this, we may decide there’s no reason to go back to the way things were before.”

“Over-incarceration is real, and this experience today is something we can and must learn from,” said Tramonte.

Read a platform for protecting Ohio immigrants and other incarcerated people from the spread of COVID-19 here, as well as letters from Physicians for Human Rights and thousands of other doctors about the need to dramatically decarcerate in order to flatten the curve of COVID-19. 

Help an immigrant father being held in an Ohio jail, despite having a compromised immune system, here.

Follow the Ohio Immigrant Alliance on Twitter @tramontela