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New Orleans, LA—The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice sent a letter yesterday to local, state and federal authorities demanding an immediate moratorium on immigration enforcement in the Gulf Coast region. The letter was sent as cases of the novel coronavirus are skyrocketing in the region and as cases are beginning to be reported in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities around the country. The letter warns that a moratorium is urgently needed to prevent the spread of the virus and save lives.

“During a global pandemic, one’s immigration status should not determine whether one can seek medical care,” the letter reads. “In fact, this crisis has made clear that we are all only as safe as our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Louisiana is a hot spot for the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 5,000 cases reported and 239 deaths. The crisis in the region is expected to worsen significantly before it improves. The letter argues that ICE’s continuing enforcement efforts threaten to undermine efforts to “flatten the curve.”

“In our outreach efforts over the last two weeks, we’ve spoken with hundreds of immigrants across Louisiana who expressed a reticence to seek testing or prepare for stay-at-home because they fear ICE,” the letter states. “Migrants cannot seek testing, prepare stay-at-home orders, or trust public health officials in the midst of this pandemic because of the ever-looming threat of arrest, detention, and deportation.” 

The letter was sent to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and New Orleans ICE Field Office Director Diane L. Witte along with other officials invested in the safety and wellbeing of the people of the Gulf South. These include Congressman Cedric Richmond, senior officials in the office of Governor John Bel Edwards, New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell, and members of the New Orleans City Council. Governor Edwards and Mayor Cantrell have issued emergency declarations and urged residents to practice social distancing and other precautions that are impossible in immigration detention. 

The letter notes DHS’s own doctors have referred to immigration detention facilities as a “tinderbox.” On March 24, ICE officials confirmed the first positive diagnosis for a person held in immigration detention, and additional cases have been reported in facilities across the country since, including in Louisiana. Last week, 60 migrants at the Richwood Detention Center staged a hunger strike to protest poor sanitation and a lack of preparedness to prevent the virus from spreading within the facility. Also last week, a video went viral on social media of women sharing unsanitary conditions at the LaSalle Detention Center where a group of women were pepper sprayed for protesting a similar lack of protection and preparation.

Moratoriums on immigration enforcement are not unheard of, as the letter notes. In the past, they have been issued during hurricanes and public health crises like the Flint water crisis. The letter argues that the coronavirus pandemic demands similar proactive efforts.

“To effectively flatten the curve and operationalize the state’s COVID-19 emergency aid efforts, DHS must make clear and specific public reassurances that immigration enforcement is suspended in the Gulf Coast region—the area of the New Orleans Field Office,” the letter reads. “A moratorium on immigration enforcement is consistent with ICE’s highest priority to protect the nation, and critical to operationalizing the state and local governments’ COVID-19 response efforts.”


About The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice The New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) was founded as a workers’ rights and racial justice response to the man-made disaster that came along with Hurricane Katrina. As politicians and employers attempted to use the storm to pit communities of color against each other, a group of Black and immigrant workers came together from public housing developments, FEMA trailer parks, day labor corners, and labor camps across Louisiana to build a new freedom movement: multi- racial; committed to racial, gender, and immigrant justice; and dedicated to building power at the intersection of race and the economy.

For more than a decade, the members of NOWCRJ have continued to fight for dignity and justice, winning higher wages, better working conditions and pro-worker policies. 

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