Federal immigration authorities released more than 160 migrants from detention and are reviewing the cases of other detainees who could be at risk to contract the coronavirus, the Wall Street Journal reports. As of March 30, 600 migrant detainees had been identified as vulnerable to the virus, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. At least 19 detained migrants have tested positive for COVID-19. Many ICE employees working at detention centers have also tested positive. Civil rights and immigration advocates, and Democratic lawmakers, have pressured ICE to release migrants in its custody who don’t pose a threat to public safety. Immigration jails are thought to be a potential breeding ground for infectious diseases. ICE has faced allegations of offering poor health care in its facilities, which it denies.
Many of the migrants in detention centers are being held for coming immigration court dates, and immigrant advocates have argued the agency could release many of them with ankle bracelets or otherwise require them to check in with authorities. As of March 28, ICE was holding 35,000 unauthorized migrants, down from a daily average of 43,000 this year. Immigrant advocates, lawyers and public health officials have been calling on the agency to reduce its detained population further. Over the past month, federal judges have ordered the release of dozens of immigrant detainees who argued that they were at risk of being infected with coronavirus in immigration jails. At several detention centers, migrants have staged hunger strikes or other protests, as fears of the pandemic have spread. In some instances, guards used pepper spray to quell the unrest.