© Reuters. President Trump attends the signing ceremony for the Coronavirus Relief Act at the White House in Washington
By Ted Hesson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has placed a tough immigration agenda at the center of his 2020 re-election campaign, and his government has spearheaded action despite the U.S. becoming the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak worldwide.
While the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service (ICE (NYSE :)) has recalled arrest operations and has agreed to investigate cases of some vulnerable immigrants in detention, it is still holding tens of thousands and conducting deportation flights.
Immigrant advocates have called for prisoners, especially low-level offenders, to be released from custody because of the risk of contracting the virus. Foreign governments have urged Washington to ensure that migrants deported to their countries are not infected with COVID-19, the deadly respiratory disease caused by the new corona virus.
Do you have questions about ICE enforcement during the pandemic? Here are the answers.
HOW COVID INFLUENCED ICE OPERATION?
The U.S. law enforcement agency handles the arrest, detention, and deportation of immigration violations. As a result, his officials could come into contact with people infected with the virus, which has killed more than 50,000 people nationwide in the past few weeks.
ICE announced in mid-March that due to the outbreak, arrest and detention efforts would focus on "public security risks" and individuals with certain criminal convictions.
ICE said this month that it had instructed offices across the country to consider releasing prisoners at higher risk of COVID-19 infection, such as pregnant women and the elderly.
The number of immigrants detained decreased from 42,000 at the end of 2019 to around 31,000 in mid-April.
In addition, illegal border crossings have declined dramatically and the administration has introduced new rules to quickly "exclude" prisoners instead of arresting them.
Did ice officers and detectives sign the virus?
According to the ICE, 297 immigrant prisoners had tested positive for COVID-19 by Thursday. Dozens of infections have been registered in four detention centers in New York, California, Texas and Louisiana.
Proponents have questioned whether the new corona virus has spread to ICE facilities. The agency has only conducted approximately 425 tests on all detainees, a spokeswoman said this week.
According to the ICE, 88 employees tested positive for the virus, including 35 who work in detention centers. No contractors are included in these figures.
HOW WAS THE OUTBURD INFLUENCED?
Reuters reported on Thursday that ICE would purchase 2,000 COVID-19 tests to screen some inmates before being taken to other countries, which the agency later confirmed.
The decision to test some of the deportees has been criticized by foreign governments. Guatemala said this month it would stop accepting US deportees after dozens of returning migrants tested positive.
IS ICE PREPARED FOR DISABLED CORONAVIRUS BREAKDOWNS?
ICE has dealt with measles and mumps outbreaks in its facilities. However, the new corona virus poses special challenges.
Many ICE detention centers are in remote communities, far from hospitals that are able to cope with a rush of COVID-19 patients, Reuters reported earlier this month.
Prison outbreaks in such areas could quickly flood local hospitals and jeopardize their ability to treat residents with inmates.
WHAT HAPPENS WITH FAMILIES AND CHILDREN?
The number of families in ICE detention has dropped in recent weeks. As of April 21, ICE had around 700 family members in custody, 30 percent less than two weeks earlier. This comes from figures published in a court case.
However, advocates have pushed for ICE to release all detained families and unaccompanied children to the care of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
In March, a federal judge based in Los Angeles called on US officials to "make continuous efforts" to get children out of prisons.
The HHS office, which is responsible for the care and custody of unaccompanied minors, said it had almost 2,000 children in custody by Thursday.
The agency said 59 children in custody tested positive for COVID-19. According to a spokesman, 45 of them had recovered and had been taken out of isolation.
Around 500 children caught on the US-Mexico border were quickly "expelled" according to new enforcement regulations to contain the virus. Some were sent back to their home countries by plane, others were sent back to Mexico.