The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rattle American society. One particular area of concern is our federal, state, and local jails. These are confined spaces where individuals live in close proximity with others – the perfect place for a virus to spread rapidly. Some jails began releasing low-risk or elderly inmates to prevent unnecessary coronavirus deaths. Officials continue to debate the pros and cons of releasing inmates, weighing the health of convicts versus the safety of the general public.
Immigration detention is no different. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for alien detention, stated on April 29 that 425 detainees tested positive for coronavirus while in custody. ICE’s current detained population is over 30,000. Legislators on both sides of the aisle see this as a problem, and rightfully so. But the suggestions from each group could not be more different.
Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced companion legislation that would release scores of detained criminal aliens, citing the coronavirus as justification. Further, the FIRST Act calls for a total cessation of all immigration enforcement in the United States.
Compare this to the PANDEMIC Act, introduced by Florida Repubican Rep. Matt Gaetz. Representative Gaetz’s bill calls for the immediate removal of all detained illegal aliens during a national emergency issued in response to a communicable disease. This accomplishes two important things. First, it reduces the number of people held in detention, a professed goal of Representative Jayapal and Senator Booker. Second, it removes illegal aliens from the United States and sends them back to their homes. This is not a radical move in the slightest. Mexico deported almost its entire illegal alien population in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Opening jails and letting free potentially dangerous criminal aliens is completely devoid of common sense. The PANDEMIC Act presents a safer alternative. This bill protects aliens by removing them from the close confines of detention. It also protects the American public by simply returning these people to their homes, instead of giving them a de facto coronavirus amnesty.
Although this bill will not move in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, it is an important message to lawmakers in both parties that simply releasing criminals and stopping the enforcement of immigration law is not a serious proposal.