Immigrant Detention and COVID-19: A Tragic Call to Action for Federal and State Officials

By Caitlin Patler, Jackie Gonzalez, and Hamid Yazdan Panah, JD.

Front cover

Authors: Caitlin Patler, PhD, University of California, Davis; Jackie Gonzalez, JD, Immigrant Defense Advocates; and Hamid Yazdan Panah, JD, Immigrant Defense Advocates.

This issue brief reviews research on immigration detention, with a particular focus on conditions of confinement and the pains of imprisonment experienced by detained people in the United States. It then discusses federal and state actions to save lives and uphold human dignity in both the shorter-term timeline (of the pandemic) and the longer-term.

It finds that the COVID-19 pandemic exposes a federal immigration detention system of imprisonment without trial that has long failed to properly ensure the health and wellbeing of detained people—and with little-to-no accountability. In the long term, we must work to end this broken system and prioritize the humane treatment of immigrants. In the short-term, the most immediate, life-saving solution is to release detained people, starting immediately with anyone at risk for severe illness. State lawmakers must also do their part to ensure ICE detention centers are no longer routinely violating the very minimal standards set forth in their own contracts, let alone human rights. California’s recent legislative changes may provide a case study for the rest of the nation.

Caitlin Patler, Co-author of the report and Assistant Professor of Sociology and Executive Committee Member of the Global Migration Center at the University of California, Davis, commented:
 
"The research is clear: immigration detention is not only unnecessary for facilitating a just immigration system, but also causes extensive harm to detained people, their families, and our communities more broadly. Recent policies from California can provide a roadmap to reducing reliance on this overly punitive and systematically unjust practice."
 
Jackie Gonzalez, Policy Director at Immigrant Defense Advocates, remarked of the findings:
 
"Now more than ever, we must be thoughtful and creative in developing policies that challenge and dismantle the immigration detention system. We must not only dream of ending detention but work diligently to move policymakers into making that a reality." 
 
Hamid Yazdan Panah, Advocacy Director at Immigration Defense Advocates, said:

"The detention of migrants and asylum seekers in the United States and throughout the world is one of the most important human rights issues of our time. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare how unjust, inhumane, and unnecessary this practice is. While we work to abolish this system, we must do all that we can to protect the lives of those trapped in these facilities.
 
For media outreach about the brief, please contact  jennifer.allsopp@gse.harvard.edu.
 
 

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