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Criminalization During COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to claim lives, it has become clearer than ever that we are only as healthy as the most vulnerable members of our community. We need a collective commitment across our society to stay at home, and save as many lives as possible. And for this approach to succeed, we need to take care of each other and make sure all people have adequate support to survive this crisis.

But enforcing stay-at-home orders with harsh policing and incarceration actually increases risk of transmission. It is impossible to practice social distancing in an arrest or in jails and prisons. Police stops and arrests involve direct interpersonal contact between officers and the public, at a time when 16% of New York Police Department officers are out sick or quarantined. A night in jail can mean sharing a single cell with 24 other people. For immigrants, the pipeline from arrest to deportation remains active. ICE continues to surveil immigrants who have contact with police, conduct community raids, and detain people at record numbers. There is no way to flatten the curve when people are locked up in cages and don’t even have access to soap or clean water.

As organizers and community leaders, we know how much incarceration and deportations destabilize communities who are suffering deeply at this moment. It is particularly cruel to expand these systems at a time when people are facing unprecedented financial and emotional uncertainty. In Washington D.C., a violation carries a $5,000 fine; in New York, it constitutes a serious misdemeanor. Our communities have been left out of several government relief packages. We cannot be made to bear these additional threats to health, safety, and stability. We are already overpoliced and overpunished as it is.

Instead of relying on police and incarceration to keep people at home, we demand that our government provide everyone with the necessary resources – from cancelling rent, to ensuring compensation for lost income and universal healthcare – to make it possible for more people to stay inside.

Police, jails, and deportations are not public health tools. Some cities and states understand this principle and have reduced arrests and released people from jails, prisons, and detention centers. It is imperative for everyone else to follow suit. The more people are arrested, locked up, or deported, the more everyone’s health is endangered. 

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Sincerely, 

Immigrant Justice Network Advisory Board 

Alejandra Pablos 

Arianna Salgado 

Donald Anthonyson 

Sandy Valenciano 

Sarath Suong

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The Immigrant Justice Network is a partnership of the Immigrant Defense Project, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Just Futures Law, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG)