The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday February 7th

Editorial: ICE agents don't need masks, doctors do

<p>ICE agents are requesting a hold of 45,000 of these N95 surgical masks, a move that could make less of them available to medical providers battling the coronavirus. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.</p>
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ICE agents are requesting a hold of 45,000 of these N95 surgical masks, a move that could make less of them available to medical providers battling the coronavirus. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Agencies across the country have recommended social distancing, and some cities have implemented shelter in place or “stay at home” orders, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is still ramping up its detention of undocumented immigrants. 

How? By requesting 45,000 N95 surgical masks from manufacturers to protect themselves — the same masks that doctors and nurses who are treating COVID-19 patients are having a hard time getting their hands on. 

According to ICE’s “Guidance on COVID-19,” agents are going to “continue daily enforcement operations to make criminal and civil arrests, prioritizing individuals who threaten our national security and public safety.” 

We would argue that the biggest present threat to public safety would be ICE agents, not undocumented immigrants.

In early March, The New York Times reported that ICE agents were going to "flood the streets," specifically targeting sanctuary cities whose local police have elected not to cooperate with ICE.

While North Carolina does not have any sanctuary cities, it does have sanctuary counties, and Orange County is one of them. This leaves room for concern that the Triangle area, which is experiencing a growing number of coronavirus cases, could be a potential target for ICE operations.

Cramming people into detention centers presents an obvious health concern. One person has already tested positive for COVID-19 in an ICE detention facility. On top of this, in 2019 the Department of Homeland Security reported that medical care at ICE detention facilities was "inadequate." 

Worse still, visitation to ICE detention centers has been prohibited in order to protect against the spread of the virus, but its agents are still patrolling in an effort to fill them up. 

If you don’t think that the presence of ICE agents in your area should concern you, you might want to think again. 

These agents are vectors who could spread coronavirus, which raises a public health threat that should concern us all. Most importantly, though, if the agency’s request for masks is approved, there will be 45,000 less masks available for those who are risking their lives to save coronavirus patients. 

This move would jeopardize everyone's health ⁠— undocumented and documented alike ⁠— and send the message that our federal government would rather protect those who are threatening public health in order to deport folks than supply masks for the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are risking their lives to treat COVID-19 patients.

ICE has said that it will slow down enforcement in light of the present crisis. However, as with social distancing and quarantine measures, a partial reduction is not enough. ICE must immediately cease all surveillance and policing activity. 

In a time where resources are growing more scarce by the day, we need to prioritize supplying healthcare systems, not detention agencies. 

Regardless of your stance on undocumented immigration, ICE’s decision to obtain thousands of masks means that thousands of healthcare providers will go without proper protection. And when time inevitably comes that you or someone you know needs treatment for COVID-19, who would you rather have the mask?

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