As cities around the United States are closing schools and non-essential businesses, U.S. populations are encouraged to either stay at home and limit public. Cities like San Francisco, New York City, Chicago, and Seattle are doing everything short of a complete lockdown, forcing everyone to stay inside for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, another force is choosing to remain at work in these sanctuary cities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has begun intensifying its operations in sanctuary cities across the country by conducting around the clock surveillance operations near the homes and workplaces of undocumented immigrants.
Hundreds of additional ICE officers are being deployed in unmarked cars in cities that refuse to help with deportations as part of an initiative called Operation Palladium, reports the New York Times. Despite the fact that we are in a global pandemic and rapidly intensifying public health crisis, the goal of Operation Palladium is to “arrest as many undocumented immigrants as possible.” Immigration law violations under this effort are considered civil rather than criminal infractions.
But, as a result, even expanded ICE operations are often unable to procure warrants to forcibly enter someone’s home. Enter the aggressive surveillance campaign. ICE officers are watching individuals sometimes in excess of 12 hours a day attempting to arrest them outside their homes or places of work.
The initiative began last month and will run through the end of the year in sanctuary cities like Boston, New York, Newark, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, New Orleans, and Atlanta. Many of these cities are simultaneously contending with whether or not to issue shelter in place orders to its residents in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. In light of growing COVID-19 concerns, ICE told the Los Angeles Times that precautionary measures would be taken, but that arrests would continue regardless. In Los Angeles, ICE agents continued their arrests. The only change was that now they brought along protective face masks and sanitizing wipes.
Los Angeles is one of many cities experiencing increased ICE activity. Last week, ICE arrested two parents whose children attend local schools in Denver, CO. One of the arrests was a woman who was on her way to pick up her children. Her kids had to find out what happened from a neighbor after they found their mother’s car nearby, reports the Denver Post. In Scranton, PA, ICE arrested a man as he left a hospital emergency room. And, last month, a man in Brooklyn was brought out of a hospital in handcuffs after ICE agents tasered and shot another person who tried to intervene.
These arrests prompted concern that undocumented people may avoid seeking medical treatment as a result. Currently, it is estimated that there are 11 million undocumented residents in the United States, many of which are un- or under-insured. They may already have reservations seeking medical treatment based on affordability. In the face of a very real public health crisis, people avoiding doctors in spite of symptoms pose a threat to containing the virus. According to ICE’s website, hospitals and other medical treatment facilities are supposed to be “sensitive locations,” meaning they are largely exempt from actions of immigration enforcement.
People arrested will be held in detention centers which are known for having poor track records in terms of the health of detainees. In the last few years, all manner of diseases from mumps to chickenpox to influenza have plagued detention centers. A coronavirus outbreak is just as likely to go unchecked in facilities where health is already a low priority. According to measures being taken in correctional facilities, forcing more people into confined quarters will do nothing to help the growing public health crisis.
“Immigrant detention centers are institutions that uniquely heighten the danger of disease transmission,” ACLU’s National Prison Project senior staff attorney, Eunice Cho, said in a statement on Monday. “In normal circumstances, ICE has proven time and again that it is unable to protect the health and safety of detained people.”