Washington Post Editorial Board Withholds Key Facts in Calling for Release of ICE Detainees



The Washington Post’s Editorial Board is demanding the immediate release of migrants from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s detention centers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Its argument for the mass release could not be more distorted.
 
Using hyperbolic libel, the Post asserts that “facilities, run by ICE, are petri dishes of contagion, and the residents — many of whom have no serious criminal record — are sitting ducks in the crosshairs of an inhumane policy.”

It is not surprising to see the Washington Post, an outlet that has long opposed most sensible immigration enforcement efforts, advocate for such a radical public policy. But its reasoning behind its demand is simply misguided. Most importantly, the paper does not reveal that if a migrant is genuinely facing harm in detention, they are generally eligible to return to their home country through a process called “voluntary departure.” Additionally, they omit that migrants can still apply for persecution protections at U.S. embassies in their home country in order to potentially avoid detention.  

But that’s not all WaPo left out. Let’s break down some more egregious claims from the piece:

WaPo: “COVID-19 has exploded at migrant detention centers nationwide, infecting detainees and employees alike and seeding the disease aboard deportation flights to countries ill-equipped to respond, especially in Latin America.”

Reality: It is true that ICE detention facilities have seen increases in positive COVID-19 cases—But this trend is in line with the rest of the country and world. It also appears that the Post is more concerned about migrants returning home and spreading the disease than they are about migrants being released here and spreading the disease.

At one point, some migrants on deportation flights allegedly tested positive for COVID-19 when returning to their home countries. But at the time, ICE simply did not have the resources to administer tests to all detainees set for deportation. It prioritized those who revealed symptoms, but could not provide these tests at a larger scale. ICE has vastly improved the testing process but to say that the agency was “complicit in accelerating the pandemic’s reach into Central America, the Caribbean and elsewhere,” as WaPo later says in the piece, is egregious.

The Post fails to acknowledge that ICE did not originally have the bandwidth to treat every detainee and that it quickly improved its COVID-19 mitigation process, which involved it implementing a number of social distancing, isolation, and sanitary procedures.

WaPo: “It is clear that the agency’s steps to mitigate the outbreak have been inadequate. It is also clear that testing at the facilities has lagged, proper distancing at some is insufficient, and health care is not equal to the task of containment.”

Reality: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to ICE. Its response could be better if it were given more resources—But to place full blame on the agency is unwarranted. The agency offers a daily sick call, 24-hour emergency care, and has consulted with medical professionals, disease control specialists, detention experts, and field operators to make guidelines that help reduce the spread of the disease. In fact, infected migrants are more likely to be tested and receive medical care they need in detention than they would if they were released.

The agency also adheres to numerous detainee safety guidelines. These include using disinfectant formulas registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), following cleaning and disinfectant guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and implementing environmental health and safety procedures from the National Detention Standards.

It does not make much sense for ICE to deviate from these guidelines and provide subpar conditions to migrants. It already faces heightened scrutiny from the open borders lobby and does not want to perpetuate the negative image it receives daily.

WaPo: “Advocates and public health officials have urged ICE to accelerate the release of at-risk detainees, who can be fitted with ankle monitors to encourage their appearance at immigration court proceedings. ICE has done some of that; it is critical that it do more.”

Reality: ICE has released certain classes of migrants due to increasing pressure from the open borders lobby. However, the fact that it hasn’t released the vast majority of migrants in detention amidst COVID-19 is most likely for a reason. The wholesale release of migrants from detention would be reckless public policy.

It would undermine our nation’s judicial system, as migrants set for deportation have already had due process and a final order of removal. And those still waiting for their court date more often than not do not have valid asylum claims and would be unlikely to show up to their hearing. The likely result is that most would disappear into the country and never be seen again.

The Washington Post piece asserts that “ankle monitors” can encourage appearances at immigration court proceedings, but it has been proven that these bracelets are not meant for widescale use and that migrants have cut these bracelets with ease. 

The fact that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a court notorious for siding with anti-enforcement plaintiffs, reversed a lower court judge’s decision requiring the release of at least 250 detainees due to the COVID-19 outbreak in May, reveals that ICE has met its legal obligations to protect both the health and safety of those in its custody, and the health and safety of the American people.

The Washington Post Editorial Board’s opinion piece is what its label suggests: an opinion. By no means is this editorial largely based on objective evidence. Readers must recognize that there are significant claims that were distorted to achieve the editorial board’s political goals. 

About Author

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Matthew joined FAIR in 2018 as FAIR’s communications specialist. Matthew is a primary media contact for the organization and assists with all of the organization’s communication activities. He brings previous experience in government research, writing, and communications. Before joining FAIR, Matthew worked in the Wisconsin State Senate as well as a Wisconsin political non-profit. Matthew holds a B.A. in Political Science and International Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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