Brooklyn Boro

ICE continues enforcement during coronavirus outbreak

March 13, 2020 Scott Enman
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A Brooklyn politician representing one of the most diverse districts in New York City is calling on ICE to immediately stop all immigration enforcement to further prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus among officers and the immigrant community.

In a letter to ICE New York Field Office Director Thomas Decker, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca said a moratorium on enforcement would not only prevent the spread of the disease, but it would also allow immigrants to seek medical attention if necessary without fear of being apprehended.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 95 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York City and 328 across the state. Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency; Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned most gatherings of more than 500 people starting 5 p.m. Friday; and Broadway theaters were shut down.

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Menchaca, who chairs the Committee on Immigration, said in his letter that a public health emergency “clearly justifies” ceasing immigrant enforcement.

“While states and localities are moving quickly to contain the spread of the virus, aggressive enforcement operations by ICE proceeds as usual,” Menchaca wrote. “This ultimately inhibits efforts to effectively respond and prevent more COVID-19 outbreaks, including among ICE agents themselves.

“Indeed, as 450 experts in public health, law and human rights wrote in an open letter on March 2, 2020, the government must declare all health care facilities as ‘immigration enforcement-free zones.’ This underscores the need to restrict immigration enforcement so that immigrants do not fear seeking treatment.”

Related: Coronavirus: New York City declares state of emergency

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca at a hearing in the City Council Committee on Transportation on the future of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on Feb. 25, 2020 at City Hall. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Menchaca, citing three previous emergencies — Hurricane Harvey, the northern California wildfires and the Flint water crises — when the Trump administration modified or suspended enforcement, said this pandemic warranted similar treatment.

In Brooklyn Community District 7, encompassing both Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace, more than 47 percent of residents are foreign-born, and 48 percent identify as having limited English proficiency. Seventy-three percent identified as Asian or Hispanic, according to data from the New York City Planning Department.

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“We must have the foresight and courage to make such a bold and life-saving decision,” Menchaca concluded. “I urge you to exercise that leadership and use your power to protect the public’s health and safety.”

ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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