Barack Obama’s ICE Chief Urges Donald Trump To Release Thousands Of Non-Violent Migrants In Detention

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his address on immigration reform at Del Sol High School on January 29, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
John Gurzinski / Getty Images

In an op-ed for The Atlantic released on Sunday, John Sandweg, Barack Obama‘s former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), urged Donald Trump to release non-violent migrants currently in detention amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Sandweg pointed to the conditions in ICE detention centers and their susceptibility to the outbreak of infectious diseases. As COVID-19 continues to spread in America, Sandweg urged Trump to release the “thousands of non-violent, low-flight-risk detainees” who are currently in custody.

According to Sandweg, such a course of action will decrease overcrowding in detention centers, which he says will increase their safety and put fewer people at risk.

“The large-scale release of detainees doesn’t mean that undocumented immigrants should get a free pass either,” he noted.

“Those who are released can and should continue to go through the deportation process. ICE can employ electronic monitoring and other tools to ensure their appearance at mandated hearings and remove them from the country when appropriate.”

According to Breitbart, releasing thousands of migrants — approximately 30,000, the publication claims — would impact the blue-collar job market. Specifically, the publication claims that migrants would flood the job market and decrease blue-collar wages while simultaneously increasing housing costs blue-collar regions.

While Sandweg does not touch on the economic impact of his suggestion, he appears to be more focused on the spread of COVID-19 and its implications not just for migrants in detention but for the country at large.

“An outbreak will expose the hundreds of ICE agents and officers, medical personnel, contract workers, and others who work in these facilities to the virus,” he wrote.

Sandweg notes that many of the ICE agents and officers exposed to coronavirus will be asymptomatic and spread the virus in their homes and communities. In addition, he claims that the lack of medical resources in ICE detention centers will make it difficult to treat infected migrants and ICE workers.

A recent ProPublica report covered the “harrowing” conditions in ICE centers as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country. One ICE detainee reportedly claimed that migrants at a New Jersey ICE center are currently on a hunger strike to obtain soap and toilet paper, which are allegedly low in supply due to coronavirus.

“Well, you’re going to have to die of something,” guards reportedly told detainees.

Sandweg’s call comes not long after Trump shut down the U.S.-Mexico border to non-essential travel, and Canada‘s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, shut down the U.S-Canada border, with the exception of necessary cross-border workers.