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U.S. immigration officials said Wednesday they will temporarily be using more “discretion” when it comes to the arrests of non-criminal undocumented immigrants in an attempt to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
In a statement issued Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it would instead focus on criminal investigations.
“To ensure the welfare and safety of the general public as well as officers and agents in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response, ICE will temporarily adjust its enforcement posture beginning March 18.“
The agency specified that it will focus its enforcement on “public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds.” Examples include investigations into child exploitation, gangs, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, human smuggling and terrorism.
For people who aren’t a subject of those investigations, the agency said it will “exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.”
The agency’s statement said migrants should not fear seeking out medical treatment.
“Consistent with its sensitive locations policy, 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. Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.”
Immigrant advocates in Florida, though, aren’t too convinced.
Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, told the Miami Herald that “in the past few days, we have received calls about ICE at an airport Greyhound stop, two incidents in Gainesville where at least six workers were detained and transferred to a detention center and hundreds of people— without access to bathrooms outside to wash their hands — still being forced to check in at the Miramar check-in center.”
On Wednesday, at the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement building in Miramar, almost 200 non-detained people — many elderly in wheelchairs — stood in a line outside, waiting for their mandatory check-ins.
Over the weekend, ICE told the Miami Herald that it had no plans to close its facilities: “At present time the agency has not [considered it]. However, in accordance with established practice, persons can call ahead and request to reschedule their appointment for a later date.”
Adonia Simpson, the director of family defense for the nonprofit group Americans for Immigrant Justice, told the Herald that the agency’s announcement has gaps.
“We will wait to see what discretion means locally, but this doesn’t address all of the individuals detained who are not subject to mandatory detention and could be released or the individuals reporting to Miramar,” Simpson said.
ICE will not comment on whether it will release any detainees from its detention centers.