Advocates Demand Immediate Release of ICE Detainees and an End to Ice Field Operations in Response to COVID-19

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Today community advocates from across the state joined together to call for the release of immigrant detainees and halt ICE activities in Nevada during the COVID-19 crisis. 


Advocates sent a joint letter to the ICE Field Office Director Robert Culley, demanding that he use his discretion to release individuals in ICE detention, prioritizing those who the CDC has identified as high-risk populations. Detention centers have high turnover rates, with people being released and admitted every day—directly putting staff and detainees at an unacceptable risk during the current pandemic. 

“The question is not if we can prevent COVID-19 from entering ICE detention facilities in Nevada, it is how we can minimize its impact on individuals when it happens,” said Paloma Guerrero of the UNLV Immigration Clinic. As such, the release of individuals, a choice ICE has the power to make, is necessary to limit exposure to as few people as possible. 

While other parts of local, state and federal government have sought to protect the community from a health emergency, ICE has continued field operations targeting Las Vegas families. On Sunday, March 15, while Governor Sisolak was announcing the closure of Nevada’s school, ICE was arresting a father of three children when he left his home to buy cleaning supplies and to look for any food still left in the grocery stores in order to prepare his family and home against COVID-19. His daughter, Jessica Chavez commented: 

Over the weekend, my dad was doing what most people are doing during this difficult time. He was on his way to look for cleaning supplies to ensure that his home is clean and safe. Since most stores are currently empty, he was also looking to buy food when he was detained by ICE and taken into custody. My dad is a hard-working person; he has a clean criminal record and has never been arrested or charged with any crimes. He has a United States citizen teenage daughter who depends on him emotionally and financially. We are concerned about his health because before he was detained, he mentioned that he was feeling under the weather. We are afraid that since he is being kept in a confined space with other people, this might make him more vulnerable to the coronavirus.  We respectfully ask that he is released and allowed to come home.”

Subsequently, his family has been unable to contact him because family visitation has been blocked by ICE during the pandemic.


Local attorney Sarah Perez Esq. of Hamilton Law commented: 


“In a time of uncertainty, when we are all trying to keep calm while holding our loved ones tight, ICE is out there detaining people. Half of the city is shut down, and people are in self-quarantine.  Right now, we don’t need families worrying about whether ICE is outside their door.  We need families taking care of each other and keeping each other safe.”


More than a dozen organizations and attorneys signed the letter, including UNLV Immigration Clinic, AILA Nevada, Immigrant Center for Women and Children, Freedom for Immigrants, ACLU of Nevada, Mi Familia Vota, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center, Planned Parenthood, Make the Road Nevada, Ahora Latino Journal, Latino ARTE, Silver State Voices, ACTIONN, Faith Organizing Alliance, Hardeep Sull Esq., Law Offices of Alexander Vail LLC, Chris Giunchigliani, Mayra Salinas Esq., Sarah Perez Esq and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada.


With this letter, advocates make the simple statement that immigration enforcement is not more important than public health. Aggressive immigration enforcement that breaks up families makes it harder for our community in a time of unprecedented crisis. Mass detention creates an ideal setting for disease to spread at a time when we need to do the exact opposite.


The letter is available here.