U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is temporarily stopping most of its deportation efforts amid the coronavirus outbreak.
On Wednesday, the government agency took to Twitter with an update on protocols, detailing its plan to pause most deportation efforts near or at medical facilities. However, they will continue enforcement on those who have a criminal history or are deemed a public safety risk.
ICE has indicated that its Enforcement and Removal Operations division will be delaying “enforcement actions” and focus on alternative detention methods until the coronavirus crisis is over, according to the press release.
However, the organization has not specified how it will handle the estimated 37,000 current immigration detainees, according to The Washington Post. The agency has made it clear that health and safety are the priority.
According to the agency, immigrants should not avoid medical attention out of fear of deportation.
“Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement,” the statement reads.
“During the COVID-19 crisis, ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances,” the agency said.
The organization has confirmed that it will still focus on cases involving child exploitation, gang relations, trafficking, and terrorism.
On Thursday, Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli opted to offer clarity regarding ICE’s current operations. He also noted in a statement that there has been “widespread misreporting.”
“The health and safety of Americans is paramount. Thus, ICE will, as it has during other times of crisis, conduct enforcement operations that protect our communities and uphold our laws. This means that ICE will continue to prioritize arresting and removing criminal aliens and other aliens who pose a threat to public safety, just as it always has during President Trump’s administration.”
“That does not mean that no other removable aliens will in fact be removed, but during the current public health situation, removals will be done in such a way as to minimize the exposure of our agents and of the removable aliens we are encountering. ICE will exercise its law enforcement authority in a manner that accounts for the dangers presented by COVID-19, while maintaining the safety and security of the communities it has sworn to protect.”
Amid concerns about the coronavirus, immigration advocates are asking ICE to release detainees that may be vulnerable to contracting the virus.