Both my colleague Art Arthur and I have recently spoken to the lack of wisdom in proposals to shut down immigration enforcement and removal hearings and release aliens from detention due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (see here and here).
Immigration court hearings and alien detention are in a very real way a microcosm of the larger justice, detention, and correctional systems at the federal and state levels, and so it seems to me that the logic of not releasing offenders into the community — both because they may prove COVID-positive, and because they may go on to commit serious crimes once released — is equally valid in the larger context.
Apparently not all law enforcement agencies agree. Buzzfeed reports that the Los Angeles County sheriff reduced his jail population by releasing more than 600 inmates in less than two weeks. What's more, Los Angeles County police and sheriff's agencies are allegedly minimizing the number of arrests they effect in order avoid putting more individuals into detention.
Let's hope that this doesn't prove to be penny-wise, pound-foolish where the physical and health safety of the community are concerned, but there may be reasons to worry, because Buzzfeed also reports that:
In Ohio, the Cuyahoga County Jail moved to release hundreds of inmates from its system Saturday over coronavirus concerns. Judges held a special session to release some inmates, move others to state prison, and to settle cases of inmates who had already pleaded guilty.
Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan told WJW many inmates were already in poor health. [Emphasis added.]
This sure sounds like a dump job to me.
Going back to the Los Angeles releases, I also find myself wondering how many of those released criminals were aliens who, instead of being put onto the streets, might have been handed over to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if California and Los Angeles County were sane enough to ditch their legally questionable and morally deficient "sanctuary" policies.
This, in turn, has me pondering the situation that ICE finds itself in. One way to minimize its detained population is to remove them to their countries of nationality, for instance using its Rapid REPAT program.
I suspect other countries (and migrant advocacy and activist groups) would balk and claim ICE was potentially dumping COVID-positive cases on them, but if the federal government got ahead of the curve and used some of the millions of new testing kits being made available in the next couple of weeks, as the national COVID Task Force announced during President Trump's press conference on Monday, it would blunt that charge.
Your first reaction to using the kits this way might be negative — why should those kits be used on illegal aliens and criminals? This is a perfectly understandable initial response. But think about it further for a moment.
If there is even the slightest chance that ICE will follow the path of Los Angeles and Cuyahoga Counties and start dumping detainees on the streets of U.S. cities (which I would personally find shocking and irresponsible, but I'm not emperor), shouldn't they be tested first? And having gone that far in our thinking, then if they're going to be tested prior to release, wouldn't you really rather that they be tested and (if the tests prove negative for infection) deported?