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Citing the Global Health Pandemic, Civil Rights Organizations Urge State Officials to Release Incarcerated People

Media Contacts:
Joshua Garner, 240-326-3874, jgarner@advancementproject.org

Pennsylvania Immigrant Rights Organizations and Advancement Project National Office Urge Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Agencies to Release People From Incarceration, End Flow Of New People Into Jail, Prison, and Immigration Detention Amid COVID-19 Crisis  

Pennsylvania – In a letter sent to state officials Tuesday, Pennsylvania based immigrant rights organizations, Juntos, Casa San Jose, VietLead, Asian Americans United and Advancement Project National Office are calling on the Pennsylvania Immigration & Customs Enforcement, Enforcement & Removal Operations (ICE ERO), the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), sheriff’s offices, and police departments across Pennsylvania to protect the lives of vulnerable community members by immediately releasing all people from incarceration and ending the flow of new people into jail, prison, and immigration detention systems amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The health and wellbeing of everyone detained at York and other facilities are at a major risk in this time of crisis,” said Monica Ruiz, executive director of Casa San Jose. “If conditions were abhorrent last year, we can’t imagine what they’re like today. We must free them now.”

The letter cites the ongoing COVID-19 crisis as a call to release incarcerated people. The pandemic has already seen more than 4,000 in Pennsylvania infected by the virus and hundreds have been tested and are awaiting their results—health officials expect the number to surge in the coming weeks.

Advancement Project National Office, Juntos and Casa San Jose conducted a stakeholder visit of York County Prison in April 2019, and documented findings on the horrible conditions in a letter sent to ICE and York County Prison officials on July 31, 2019. The organizations collectively witnessed and heard from people who were detained about hygiene, access to medical care, food quality and access to information.

There are over 96,000 people incarcerated in Pennsylvania’s prisons, according to the state, and thousands more in immigration facilities run by ICE. Incarcerated people are at an increased risk of COVID-19 exposure including death, and the consequences of foregoing the responsibility to protect their lives will be devastating.

“We believe people are going to die. Medical neglect is the norm in prisons, detention centers, and jails,” said Losmin Jimenez, Project Director and Senior Attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project at Advancement Project National Office. “We are very concerned about ICE and Pennsylvania DOC’s ability to provide adequate medical treatment, especially during a pandemic.”

“Decarceration at this moment is more than just a public health issue, it is a human rights emergency,” said Erika Guadalupe Nuñez, executive director of Juntos. “As the U.S. leads the world in confirmed cases of Coronavirus, we are also seeing numerous cases popping up in jails, prisons, and immigration detention facilities. The children, families, and individuals detained in these institutions are uniquely vulnerable to contracting the virus because of inadequate healthcare and its longstanding impact on their health, unsanitary conditions and the crowding that is common inside these types of facilities. In the last five months alone, 8 people died in ICE custody-how many more will we lose in the face of a global pandemic? In times of uncertainty and devastation, we must advocate for the health and well-being of all our people and that includes demanding for the release of those detained or incarcerated in our state and across the country.”

“This moment highlights the vast deficiencies of the incarceration and detention system that detainees, community members, and advocates have been speaking out about for decades,” said Alix Webb, executive director of Asian Americans United. “Incarcerated folk lack access to adequate health care, food, recreational space and other such basics integral to every human life. We have been receiving calls from concerned detainees and their families worried that with each day that goes by, they are at greater and greater risk of falling victim to COVID-19 by a system that consistently denies their humanity. Release our loved ones now.”

To view a copy of the letter and demands click here.

National immigrant rights experts Losmin Jimenez, Erika Guadalupe Nuñez, Alix Webb, and Monica Ruiz are available for interviews.

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Advancement Project National Office is a multi-racial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project National Office was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high-quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.

Juntos is a community-led, Latinx immigrant organization in South Philadelphia fighting for human rights as workers, parents, youth, and immigrants, under the belief that every human being has the right to a quality education and the freedom to live with dignity regardless of immigration status.

Casa San Jose is a community resource center that advocates for and empowers Latinos by promoting integration and self-sufficiency in Pennsylvania.

Asian Americans United is a community organization that works primarily in the Chinatown community to advocate for the needs of the larger Chinese and other AAPI communities of Philadelphia.

VietLead is a community organization that supports the Vietnamese community in Philadelphia and South Jersey.

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