In the midst of a global pandemic and a nationwide spike in COVID-19 cases, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in unmarked cars and uniforms labeled “police” came into the heart of Washington D.C and took a young man from his home as his wife and daughter watched. ICE took this DC resident to a migrant detention center several hours away, where the likelihood of him contracting COVID-19 is dangerously high. They did this with the often accurate assumption that no one would notice, and if a pesky few raised a fuss, ICE could simply point to the detained person’s past infractions to reassure DC residents we are safer without him. But when unidentifiable federal agents cart off one of our neighbors to a COVID hotbed where his life is at risk, safety is out of the question and terror comes more naturally to mind.
ICE enforcement has not stopped during COVID-19. Transfers to ICE from the criminal justice system continue unabated. Two weeks ago, a Virginia county jail holding no official agreement with ICE walked a man out of the jail doors and into an ICE van, proceeding to lie about it to the man’s friend who came to pick him up. And as we learned when ICE arrested a man at his DC residence that same week, ICE has ventured beyond cooperation with local law enforcement to resume the home “raids” that happened alarmingly often before COVID. Like they did in Portland, ICE roams around our communities snatching people up in a shadow of secrecy.
And if you believe — as I do — that the American criminal justice system is inherently racist and draconian, then immigration enforcement and detention is nothing more than a tool for putting marginalized communities back in the cages they should have never been in to begin with.
For years, ICE has justified its aggressive enforcement and detention practices by claiming that they are protecting the community from danger. In March, ICE claimed it would postpone enforcement and seek alternatives to detention for all but those who have criminal convictions or otherwise “pose a threat to public safety.” Not only has this statement proven inaccurate — almost half of people ICE currently detains have no criminal convictions — but it is based on a flawed and dehumanizing premise that a person’s prior arrests or convictions justify an entirely separate process of civil immigration detention and deportation.
People who are transferred to ICE from the criminal justice system are either awaiting trial on unproven charges or have already done time for their offenses. If you believe that the American criminal justice system doles out proportional penalties and accurately determines who poses a danger to the community, then civil immigration detention is an arbitrary form of “double jeopardy” punishment subverting due process and ignoring the careful judgement of the judiciary. And if you believe — as I do — that the American criminal justice system is inherently racist and draconian, then immigration enforcement and detention is nothing more than a tool for putting marginalized communities back in the cages they should have never been in to begin with. It is salt in an already deep wound.
ICE Detention During a Pandemic is Cruel, Inhumane, and Unconstitutional
Legal update on the fight to #FreeThemAll in the DMV
Local advocacy groups like Sanctuary DMV have long rejected ICE’s criminalization narratives, believing strongly that no one, regardless of their background, should be detained or deported for immigration violations. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought these anti-criminalization values into sharper focus. Virtually all of the people detained at ICA-Farmville Detention Center in Virginia have tested positive for COVID, and Farmville guards have responded brutally to anything they perceive as dissent, in one instance using pepper spray against men who were too sick to stand and in another incident discharging their guns in a crowded dorm. COVID is spreading in other immigration detention centers in the region, including Caroline Detention Facility in Virginia and Worcester County Detention Center in Maryland. When ICE raids homes in DC or takes someone from a jail in Virginia, the people they arrest end up at these repressive, COVID-ridden detention centers. And the detention facilities, including the private corporation that runs ICA-Farmville, make a profit with another bed filled.
ICE claims that some of the people they have arrested and refuse to release during COVID are subject to “mandatory detention” due to certain qualifying criminal convictions. Others, ICE insists, must be detained because they pose some undefined danger to the community. But when ICE purports to protect the community from danger by putting community members in danger, their already faulty narratives fall apart entirely. Now more than ever, ICE makes us less safe.
If you want to fight back against ICE and keep our communities safe, donate to the #FreeThemAllVA fund to support individuals affected by ICE enforcement and detention. If you witness ICE activity in the DMV region, please call Sanctuary DMV’s 24 hour hotline at 202–335–1183. If you have questions or ideas, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Austin Rose is a Sanctuary DMV organizer, law student, and aspiring immigration attorney interested in criminal-immigration intersections and anti-detention litigation.
Sanctuary DMV is an all-volunteer solidarity collective resisting harmful policies & practices targeting migrants in DC, Maryland & Virginia. We are committed to abolition at every level, including the complete defunding and dismantling of immigration detention, jails, prisons, ICE, and the police.