AUSTIN–American Gateways, which provides legal help to low-income immigrants in more than 20 Central Texas counties, has curtailed in-person services in the face of the COVID-19 crisis to safeguard the health of their clients and staff.
“But our most serious concern lies with the health of immigrants living elbow to elbow in government detention centers,” Rebecca Lightsey, the American Gateways executive director, said. American Gateways, she said, hopes the government moves soon to release highly at-risk detainees to family members or others who can maintain social distance until the crisis passes.
“These detention facilities often provide substandard medical care–and that’s under the best of circumstances,” Lightsey said. “To keep vulnerable people—most of whom have no criminal history—locked up in close quarters without access to treatment or testing for the virus is inhumane.”
Most immediately, American Gateways urges Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that oversees detention centers, to release anyone who would be particularly susceptible to COVID-19 due to her or his age or medical history. Also, ICE should review the custody of all individuals being held toward significantly reducing the detainee population and driving down health risks.
“No one should be forgotten during this crisis, least of all those who have already faced extraordinary risk in search of safety and protection in the United States, and advocates that work tirelessly on their behalf,” Lightsey said.
Starting March 13, American Gateways offices in Austin, San Antonio and Waco were closed to walk-in appointments and most staff shifted to working from home. Also, attorneys and other staff ceased personal visits to clients in detention centers as well as the San Antonio immigration court. However, ANYONE may still seek services by calling (512) 478-0546 x 200 for Austin, (210) 521-4768 x 232 for San Antonio, and (254) 230-0382 x 264 for Waco.
More information, contact: Rebecca Lightsey, firstname.lastname@example.org, 512-478-0546 ext. 208 or 512-663-6333