Rep. Paul Gosar this week urged the Yuma County sheriff to round up and jail any illegal aliens released from ICE detention centers in Yuma to prevent the spread of COVID in the U.S.
He maintained that Yuma County Supervisor Jonathan Lines told him ICE was releasing 50 people a day from the detention center in Yuma.
Gosar described the releases as “super-spreader” events. “It is beyond reckless for the Border Patrol to take this action,” said Gosar in a letter to Yuma County Sheriff Leon Wilmot and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
He said the federal government was releasing “hoards of infected aliens” into the state.
The ICE office in Yuma confirmed that crowding in the detention center had required the release of some illegal immigrants pending their immigration hearing. Those released are screened. The releases are intended in part to prevent the spread of infections in the overcrowded detention centers.
The number of detentions at the border increased in January all along the Mexican border to 78,000, including 6,000 unaccompanied children, 7,500 families and 65,000 single adults.
“CBP has seen a steady increase in border encounters since April 2020,” wrote spokesperson Macario Mora in an email, “which, aggravated by COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing guidelines, has caused some facilities to reach maximum safe holding capacity. Per longstanding practice, when long-term holding solutions aren’t possible, some migrants will be processed for removal, provided a Notice to Appear, and released into the U.S. to await a future immigration hearing. As the Administration reviews the current immigration process, balancing it against the ongoing pandemic, we will continue to use all current authorities to avoid keeping individuals in a congregate setting for any length of time.”
Mora said he could not release details, like the number of people being released or whether they were screened for COVID or criminal backgrounds prior to their release.
He added, “As is always the case, persons taken into custody and processed under Title 8 are evaluated on a case-by-case basis for consideration of a custody redetermination pending an immigration hearing. COVID-19 protocols, changes in Mexican law, and limited U.S. holding capacities have forced us to adapt.
“CBP takes very seriously the safety and well-being of its workforce and those they encounter, and we are taking even more precautions due to COVID-19. As it always has, the number of individuals crossing the border continues to fluctuate and we continue to adapt accordingly. For those migrants who are released, CBP may work with non-government organizations who will assist them through the out-of-custody process.”
The federal government has come under fire for separating children from their parents at the border and holding thousands of people for months at a time in closely-packed detention facilities, where thousands have gotten infected with COVID-19. Several have died, although the number is not public. In the fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, 21 immigrants died in ICE custody – the highest number since 2005.
Mexico has served notice that it will no longer accept custody of people “expelled” from the U.S. before they receive hearings after seeking asylum at the U.S. border.
The Biden Administration has ordered a 100-day pause on deporting people living in the U.S. illegally and established a new priority system for those who become subject to removal. Those in the U.S. who pose a public safety or health risk will still face immediate deportation or prosecution.
Social media rumors have suggested falsely that the Biden Administration has ordered the mass release of people in ICE custody. The average daily number of people in ICE custody increased from about 7,000 in 1994 to 50,000 in 2019, after the administration largely halted the practice of processing people at the border and releasing them to await a formal immigration or asylum hearing. The system processes about 500,000 people annually.
Gosar suggested the release of people from the overcrowded ICE detention center in Yuma posed an immediate danger to the public.
“Where these illegal aliens go after their ‘release’ is anyone’s guess,” said Gosar in the letter. “If we are to take seriously the State and County’s efforts to rein in the pandemic, then releasing 50 potentially positive cases every day into Arizona is a threat to public health and constitutes an emergency. I am asking that Sheriff Wilmot intercept these aliens and hold them in prison until they can be tested, quarantined and then returned to their home countries. The general population of Arizona should not be subjected to this mass event that will spread infected aliens throughout the state,” he wrote.
Federal courts have previously limited the ability of local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws. Police can arrest people who commit other crimes but must call on ICE to deport people or hold them if their only violation involves immigration law, according to court cases.
Gosar noted, “I have voted for trillions of dollars in COVID-19 relief” and that the money should be used to prevent the Border Patrol from the “release of hoards of infected aliens into our country.”
Gosar voted for the first $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill in the spring, but against subsequent relief measures.