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ICE Diverts Needed Face Masks from Medical Professionals

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) placed a request for bids on its website in March 2020 for 45,000 N95 protective face masks for 26 of its enforcement and removal operation field offices. This came at a time that the nation’s frontline healthcare workers are experiencing a mass shortage of such personal protective equipment (PPE).

On March 19, the first day of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s “shelter-in-place” order, ICE agents raided immigrant communities in the Los Angeles area while wearing N95 protective masks. Critics said this placed healthcare officials at risk by depriving them of needed PPE — and also violated state regulations ordering everyone to remain in place except to perform essential activities necessary for survival.

A stay-at-home order is not only to prevent those who do not have COVID-19 from acquiring it, but also to prevent those who do have it from spreading it.

Reporters for The Guardian, Miriam Lopez and Seth Holmes, reported that the raids separated families and other loved ones when support could be critical. They also said the raids increased the potential for spreading the virus in overcrowded detention sites while creating a distrust among the public concerning the necessity to follow official health orders and recommendations.

ICE’s request for face masks completely disregards the Surgeon General’s statement that all N95 face masks be redirected and reserved for medical professionals treating patients with COVID-19.

An article on dailykos.com stated that the PPE shortage is so dire that professionals are resorting to using trash bags and swimming goggles for protection. Doctors and nurses unnecessarily exposed to the virus are landing in intensive care units intubated on ventilators and in critical condition due to the lack of adequate PPE.

Legislators of both parties are condemning the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies allowing the government to prioritize ICE raids above the protections of community healthcare workers and thereby weakening the healthcare system.

Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer said, “It’s important that we don’t set up a parallel system that competes with critical needs of our responders in order to prop up some of the activities of ICE, which may be inappropriate.”

Lopez’s and Holmes’ article in The Guardian requested an end to all ICE raids. “The ICE raids conducted by the federal government are putting our country at risk, worsening a critical shortage of medical supplies and leading to overcrowding and movement that facilitate the spread of COVID-19,” they wrote. “At this historic moment, we must set our priorities straight. If we want to survive, we must stop ICE raids, detention and deportation. We must provide protective equipment to frontline workers in our health system. Our lives and the future of our society depend on it.”