Letter to Alex Azar, Secretary of the Dept. of Health and Human Services, and Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security - Rep. Grijalva Demands HHS and DHS Comply with Court Order and Release Migrant Children from Detention


Dear Secretary Azar and Acting Secretary Wolf:

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rapidly spread across the country, we are writing to
strongly urge the Departments of Health & Human Services and Homeland Security to fully
comply with the recent order from the U.S. District Judge, Dolly M. Gee.1 On March 28, 2020,
Judge Gee directed the Office of Refugee Resettlement ("ORR") and Immigration and Customs
Enforcement ("ICE") to "make every effort to promptly and safely release" migrant children
detained in detention centers and to "implement the practices recommended by the United States
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") to avoid the spread of infection" with a
deadline of April 6, 2020 to respond to its actions. Additionally, U.S. District Judge James E.
Boasberg expanded the order to apply to the parents of the children who are also detained.2

Medical experts fear the exceptionally rapid transmission of COVID-19 in detention facilities,
where medical resources such as physicians, testing kits, and protective equipment are
constrained; people are unable to practice social distancing; shared facilities are not frequently or
properly sanitized; soap and hand sanitizer are not provided or easily accessible to detainees;
quarantine or isolation units are scarce; and there are frequent opportunities for an infected
person to enter or leave the facility.

For unaccompanied children in detention, who are already more likely to have mental health
concerns or may be separated from their family members, the trauma of undergoing solitary
quarantine for the virus or simply not receiving adequate information about the potential for
infection is likely to exacerbate existing mental health concerns.

According to the most recent data provided by ICE, about 3,359 children are detained in ICE
family detention facilities, including more than half - 1,861 - who have been detained for three
months or longer. These individuals are not serving time for a crime. Instead, they are waiting for a hearing to determine whether they can legally remain in the country under civil
proceedings. Already, four detained children tested positive as have staff members at shelters for
unaccompanied children. Amongst adult immigrants in ICE custody, there have been at least 77
confirmed cases nationwide.4 Failing to promptly release these minors from these dangerous
conditions increases the risk of transmission of COVID-19, with potentially fatal consequences
not only for detained immigrants, but also for ICE officers, detention staff, and the general