Letter to ICE Re: Release of people from ICE custody pursuant to January 20 memorandum

February 3, 2021

Via Email only – thomas.decker@ice.dhs.gov 

Thomas Decker
Director, Enforcement and Removal Operations
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
201 Varick Street
New York, NY 10014

Re: Release of people from ICE custody pursuant to January 20 memorandum

Dear Director Decker,

We write on behalf of the three NYIFUP programs at Brooklyn Defender Services, The Legal Aid Society, and The Bronx Defenders, which collectively represent more than 100 individuals detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) in the New York metro area, as well as the undersigned organizations and groups. We urge you to release and return to our communities all people in your custody under the priorities identified in the January 20, 2021, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) memorandum entitled “Review of and Interim Revision to Civil Immigration Enforcement and Removal Policies and Priorities,” issued by Acting Secretary David Pekoske (“Pekoske memo”).

The Pekoske memo provides that “DHS must implement civil immigration enforcement based on sensible priorities” and directs that these enumerated priorities “shall apply . . . to a broad range of [] discretionary enforcement decisions,” including “whom to detain or release.” Id. (emphasis added). Specifically, the Pekoske memo instructs that only those “[i]ndividuals incarcerated within federal, state, and local prisons and jails released on or after the issuance of this memorandum who have been convicted of an ‘aggravated felony,’…and are determined to pose a threat to public safety” should be prioritized. Id. (emphasis added). Thus, the vast majority of—if not all—people currently in your custody fall outside of the Pekoske memo’s priorities, warranting their immediate release.

Implementing the Pekoske memo’s priorities requires even greater urgency given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The memo recognizes that we are facing “the most serious global public health crisis in a century” and directs DHS to focus its resources on implementing “public health guidelines and protocols.” Id. Since the pandemic’s inception, ICE has failed to adequately follow public health guidance to protect the health and lives of people in its custody. As of January 31, 9,178 people in ICE custody nationwide have reportedly tested positive for COVID-19—a number experts believe is an undercount due to the lack of testing during the first few months of the pandemic. Moreover, the court-ordered release of people from ICE custody during the past year has increased community health and safety during the pandemic, aptly demonstrating that the continued detention of thousands of our community members is unnecessary and unjustifiable.

Read the full letter here