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Markey calls to curtail deportations, migrant detention amid coronavirus crisis

This image released in a report by the US Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Office shows migrant families overcrowding a Border Patrol facility on June 10, 2019 in McAllen, Texas.-/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Senator Edward J. Markey on Tuesday called for the Department of Homeland Security to suspend “needless” deportations and release detained immigrants who don’t pose a public safety threat in light of the coronavirus crisis.

In a letter first obtained by the Globe, Markey warned Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the department, that disease could spread rapidly in crowded detention facilities and that “grueling travel” involved in deportations could make people more susceptible to infection and complications.

“Rather than perpetuating immigration policies that may exacerbate this crisis, DHS should be directing its resources to the agency’s newly adopted containment measures, such as enhanced health screening at airports,” Markey wrote.


The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Markey is the latest Democrat to raise concerns that President Trump’s hardline immigration policies could exacerbate the spread of coronavirus.

A group of Democrats, including Massachusetts Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Katherine Clark and Jim McGovern, recently pressed the administration not to enforce its “public charge” rule with regard to coronavirus treatment and testing. That rule allows immigration officers to consider whether immigrants used public services in determining whether or not to grant them permanent resident status; late last week, US Citizenship and Immigration Service said coronavirus testing and treatment would not affect those considerations.

Immigrant advocates have also raised concerns about the fact that some court proceedings for asylum seekers in the administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program — which require numerous people to line up and crowd into courtrooms — are continuing despite recommendations from health officials to limit public gatherings.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds more than 35,000 people in custody on average every day, according to reporting Markey cited in his letter. He urged DHS to use its “alternatives to detention” programs to release migrants from detention and called for DHS to use its resources to provide a “whole-of-agency” response to support officials implementing new screening procedures at US airports.


He suggested the agency “immediately begin releasing eligible individuals on alternative detention programs or on their own recognizance — before this infection spreads to detention facilities.”

Read the full letter:

Jess Bidgood can be reached at Follow her @jessbidgood.