Act Now: Urge Your U.S Representatives to Support the FIRST Act | Physicians for Human Rights

Act Now: Urge Your U.S Representatives to Support the FIRST Act

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In 2020, an ICE detention center in Georgia came under scrutiny for the dire lack of COVID-19 protections for staff and detainees and alleged mass sterilizations of women detained in the facility. For months, Congress has known that a pandemic combined with immigration detention is a public health ticking time bomb for the United States. 

Please, send a letter to your representative today and demand they move swiftly to vote in favor of the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together Act (FIRST Act) today.

This bill would release immigrants and asylum seekers held in detention and potentially save lives and protect their health.

Your Message
Support The FIRST Act
Dear Member of Congress

I write to join Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) in advocating for the release of the tens of thousands of immigrants currently in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in accordance with public health principles. Congress has a critical role to play in the pandemic response, so I encourage you to vote in favor of the Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together Act (FIRST Act).

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and we continue to navigate this unprecedented national public health emergency, we must make sure that the federal government prevents the spread of the virus, rather than engaging in policies which will only prolong the crisis and worsen its impact. I therefore urge you to pass the FIRST Act, which will reduce the unnecessary detention levels and immigration enforcement activity, which are not critical from a law enforcement perspective but which actively increase possible virus exposure for immigrants and ICE officials, as well as the wider community.

The practice of imprisoning asylum seekers who flee to the United States to escape torture, abuse, and persecution in their own countries has damaging effects on their well-being. PHR has documented how detention can induce fear, isolation, and hopelessness, further exacerbating the severe psychological distress frequently exhibited by asylum seekers who arrive at our borders already traumatized. With the spread of COVID-19, the health risks associated with immigration detention have increased exponentially. Migrants and asylum seekers being held in detention facilities live in close, crowded quarters where they are unable to protect themselves with precautions like social distancing and frequent handwashing and are therefore at a higher risk of being exposed to and acquiring infectious diseases.

As a deeply concerned constituent, I strongly urge you to support the FIRST Act. This critically needed legislation would compel the release of individuals in immigration detention who are above a certain age or who have pre-existing medical conditions and are therefore facing an elevated risk of vulnerability to COVID-19. The FIRST Act further demands a presumption of release for all individuals in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) custody by requiring DHS to review the files of all persons in custody and it authorizes release unless DHS can justify further detention, including by meeting a high evidentiary standard. It would also ensure that DHS provide basic sanitary supplies, including soap and hand sanitizer. Lastly, the FIRST Act would suspend interior civil immigration enforcement during the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic – especially in sensitive locations like medical facilities and other places where immigrant communities seek vital health assistance.

ICE has already reported 5,832 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those who have been in its custody, a dangerous statistic that grows more alarming by the day. Though ICE has recently taken welcome steps to relieve the situation, there are still thousands of immigrants in custody, most without any criminal record. The agency has also starting locking individuals in their cells for up to 23 hours a day to increase social distancing. These conditions are not sustainable and can result in further harm to their physical and mental health.

The actions you take now will define your legacy as a member of Congress and as a public servant. I urge you to support the FIRST Act now to protect the health of all our communities in a time of crisis.


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