In a letter sent to Attorney General William Barr today, more than 160 immigration, faith, civil rights, and community organizations called on the Department of Justice to enact immediate changes in the criminal prosecution of migrants to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Several federal courts have already stayed court hearings until May and are declining to bring unnecessary charges like unauthorized entry or reentry against immigrants at the border due to the spreading coronavirus. Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli has said that federal courts in Arizona and New Mexico would be suspending certain prosecutions. However, according to media reports, the Operation Streamline court in Yuma, Arizona is continuing to prosecute and incarcerate migrants and reentry prosecutions are proceeding across the country.
The groups called on the Department of Justice, in conjunction with CBP, ICE, and the U.S. Marshals, to immediately enact changes in all districts including: ending arrests, referrals, and criminal prosecutions for unauthorized entry (8 USC §1325) and unauthorized reentry (8 USC §1326); halting “Operation Streamline” magistrate courts; dropping all charges for unauthorized entry and unauthorized reentry and prioritizing release of those currently being held on such charges; and agreeing to re-sentence people held in BOP or private prisons on entry or reentry offenses.
“Criminal charging and locking up migrants is always dangerous. In a time of a pandemic, it is not only dangerous, it also may be deadly. Reducing the number of people who are unnecessarily locked up is a pressing public health issue, and these recommendations will go a long way towards that goal,” said Claudia Muñoz, acting co-Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership.
“As recently as last week, ICE was conducting raids in our communities, indifferent to the existing fear and chaos of this pandemic. In just one of those instances in North Carolina, at least 200 of our friends and neighbors were taken into custody, and many of them are currently being prosecuted for re-entry” said Jacinta Gonzalez of Mijente. “The DOJ should do the right thing, act now to stop any more arrests, and decline these unnecessary prosecutions so that the many thousands of people around the country, including hundreds of our people in North Carolina, can return safely home to their families.”
“The Department of Justice’s decision to continue prosecutions and imprisonment jeopardizes the lives of thousands of imprisoned individuals and our communities,” said Julie Mao, Deputy Director of Just Futures Law. “They must act swiftly on these recommendations to avert a catastrophe.”
“In the face of this unprecedented health crisis, the only humane thing to do is halt these prosecutions and stop putting immigrants in harm’s way before it’s too late,” said Miryan Villalobos of The Bail Project. “We urge the Department of Justice to rise above politics and do the right thing.”
“The administration needs to immediately cease the abusive practice of prosecuting people for immigration-related offenses,” said Jesse Franzblau, Senior Policy Analyst with the National Immigrant Justice Center. “Such prosecutions are a cruel form of double punishment, cause unwarranted harm to migrants, and are especially reckless during a public health crisis.”
Mijente is a political, digital, and grassroots hub for Latinx and Chicanx organizing and movement building. Launched in 2015, Mijente has a long history of grassroots organizing and is a nationally recognized leader in the immigrant rights movement.