Regarding Advocate Demands to Free Migrants from ICE Detention Covid-19 Deathtraps

How about, let my people go … southward?

By Todd Bensman on April 20, 2020

A "Let My People Go" campaign, both legal and political, is now at full throttle for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to empty its detention centers of migrants to save them from certain Covid-19 death.

Using hashtags such as #FreeThemAll and #DetenionIsDeadly and with car rallies, organizations that advocate for mass illegal immigration spent this past weekend (and the last month) demanding that ICE release detainees from detention centers. RAICES Texas, for instance, described apprehended migrants last month as being held at "grave risk" inside "increasingly dangerous and lethal conditions in detention centers."

The demands for release, of course, stand out in that they always militate for northward departures, through the U.S. side of the turnstile — as though this were the only possible direction where migrants could find safety from their Covid-19-permeated detention quarters. But closer inspection reveals the campaign to be intellectually disingenuous at its core, and exploitative of a crisis moment to serve organizational goals such as growing America's vast permanent illegal population and raising money on that outcome.

The migrants can more quickly and easily leave their purported death traps by going southward, out of the United States. A law explicitly allows for exits on demand but never gets cited in any of the escape plans because escape to safety is not what any of this is about. Most migrants in U.S. immigration detention can leave at the drop of a hat, whenever they want, by asking the nearest immigration officer to get them a "stipulated removal" form to fill out or asking for a "waiver of hearing". Under 8 CFR 1003.25 (b), migrants can in a matter of days be transported to homelands, or even to a country they might have passed through.

That's right. Detainees, the majority of whom are likely asylum applicants awaiting various hearings or decisions, need not cede the power of self-preservation to a cruel, delaying, dithering Trump administration. Those with asylum claims would need to drop their asylum claims, and they'll be on their way out and home in a few days' time. Dropping the asylum claim does not preclude them from filing future ones by asserting "changed circumstances".

Ignorance about this option appears almost willful, as in an April 13 column in The Intercept headlined: "Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, ICE has Life-or-Death Power to Release Detainees".

That's of course untrue if all detainees need to do is just say the word and leave the same way they came in.

That's not happening, of course, because the danger is purposefully exaggerated so that more migrants can be released to join the nation's permanent illegally present population of between 12 and 20 million. If RAICES and other mass illegal immigration advocacy groups and the lawyers they pay truly believed in their own Covid-19 deathtrap narrative, they are morally liable, reprehensibly so, for failing to advise these people to escape via their right to stipulated removal.

After all, migrants who are in a real death trap almost certainly will be better off in the wide open just about anywhere outside the highly infected United States.

Don't expect these groups ever to press for stipulated removals, to the south, because they don't actually believe the false death-or-U.S. release choice they have constructed. Neither should anyone else.

A possible reason for the renewed advocacy-group push over this past weekend was the sight of ICE releasing 700 detainees in New Jersey and some other states. ICE explained that those released were "older and medically compromised detainees" and who also pose no public safety or flight risk. This no doubt emboldened the advocacy groups.

DHS and ICE should resist caving in to this ploy in a broader way. For one thing, the claims of high danger for detainees are not backed by science or much knowledge about the ICE medical response to Covid-19 so much as by anecdotal testimony of migrants who are highly self-interested in discussing their "feelings" of fear and loathing.

My CIS colleague Art Arthur penned an evidence-based analysis concluding that, far from Covid-19 deathtraps, "immigration detention seems safer for those detainees than for the public as a whole, and treatment is significantly more available — without taxing an already overly burdened system."

Illegal immigration advocacy groups would no doubt argue that stipulated removal completes the impossible false choice, since this option would require migrants to escape from one death at the hands of the Trump administration's ICE to another death at the hands of governments or criminal gangs in the homelands where they would return.

But U.S. immigration judges across the land aren't buying claims of such danger. The judges reject the vast majority of asylum claims. In 2018, for instance, immigration judges denied 77 percent of claims by El Salvadorans, 79 percent of claims by Hondurans, and 83 percent by Guatemalans. The number was even higher for Mexicans. Knowing their chances, many freed Central Americans don't even bother to show up to their hearings. With release from detention, they get what they came for: freedom to live and work illegally in America for an indefinite period. On a field research trip to Guatemala earlier this year, I found that migrants from that country went to America not because they badly needed sanctuary from government persecution but, rather less grandiosely, to send money home to build expansive modern houses in which they planned to live upon their return. Why not let them return now?

Central Americans are economic migrants overwhelmingly ineligible for U.S. asylum; they claim it anyway as a procedural means to get released into the United States so they can work illegally, win or lose in court (many who lose the gamble simply avoid deportation and start living illegally). Release inside America is always the objective, never mind the asylum stuff.

The advocacy groups might also argue the migrants can't go home because Covid-19 is there. But no one seems to mind that, all things being equal, Covid-19 is in the United States and killing people here, too.

For any migrants and their advocates who authentically believe that mortal danger stalks everyone in the close-quarters ICE deathtraps, then stipulated removal is a slam-dunk option compared to time-consuming pressure campaigns, petition drives, litigation, in-vehicle protests, and letters to government officials. Neither the migrants nor their advocates are talking about the stipulated removal option because doing so exposes the "deathtrap" narrative for the ploy it is.

When the house is actually on fire, panicked inhabitants don't take time to choose the best exit and stick with it no matter that it is blocked; they go with whatever gets them out of the flames fastest.