- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2020

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement publicly reaffirmed Friday that most illegal immigrants can show up at clinics and hospitals amid the coronavirus epidemic without fear of being arrested.

ICE said its guidance to agents has always deemed hospitals a safe space, with arrests only allowed in exceptional circumstances, and that remains true amid the spreading of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The agency said it does not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19 among detainees in its custody right now, but said it is taking steps to prevent infection by suspending social visits of outside persons to detainees.

Immigrant-rights activists had been pushing ICE to make a public pronouncement that hospitals and clinics were sanctuaries amid the virus’s spread. They argued that without a new declaration, immigrants might avoid seeking treatment.

ICE delivered that reaffirmation.

“It is important for the public to know that ICE does not conduct operations at medical facilities, except under extraordinary circumstances,” the agency said. “ICE policy directs our officers to avoid making arrests at sensitive locations — to include schools, places of worship, and health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities — without prior approval for an exemption, or in exigent circumstances.”

But the groups said more is required.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Friday demanded ICE and Customs and Border Protection cut the number of detainees to lower the risk, by releasing “non-priority detainees.”

The caucus also said ICE should have a presumption against detaining new arrestees, instead leaving them free in communities under some form of supervision.

The lawmakers also urged the Health Department, which takes custody juvenile illegal immigrants who show up at the border without parents, to release the children to sponsors.

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