Continued halt to immigration enforcement is essential to stemming the pandemic

As Pennsylvania – and the United States as a whole – begins the process of reopening, we enter a time of hope. We will leave our homes, see friends and loved ones, reclaim our former lives.

In the coming weeks and months, we will move closer and closer to normality. Yet, to borrow an old phrase, we can’t go back there again. The world is irrevocably changed.

In the short-term, we must continue social distancing and practicing vigilant hygiene. We should also take comfort in the fact that we are learning for the future, and that we have shown – as a state, a country, and a planet – we can come together to protect each other.

As we have learned, there are many things we can all do as individuals to stem the tide of this virus. But there are other protective measures outside the grasp of individuals.

Back in February, I sent a letter to members of the U.S. Congress, urging an immediate halt to immigration enforcement activities as we deal with the spread of COVID-19, as those fearing deportation would have a strong incentive not to seek medical care.

Subsequently, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) and other prominent senators also sent a letter to the President’s Coronavirus Task Force, expressing their “deep and urgent concern,” and shortly thereafter, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced its Enforcement and Removal Operations division would “delay enforcement actions” and use “alternatives to detention” amid the outbreak.

With the exception of efforts to deport foreign nationals who have committed crimes or who pose a threat to public safety, ICE halted enforcement across the nation, easing the fears of immigrants, and ensuring everyone, documented and undocumented, has access to medical care.

Two months on, these measures have helped us flatten the curve and forge a path out of the darkness. To change tack now would be a grave error.

An estimated 200,000 undocumented immigrants call Pennsylvania home. However, these undocumented immigrants are far less likely than other Pennsylvanians to seek medical treatment for fear of legal repercussions and deportation.

While I am grateful steps have been taken to ensure everyone – documented and undocumented – has access to medical care, we must ensure this remains the case. The health and safety of literally everyone depends on easy access to medical care for everyone.

As Pennsylvania begins the process of returning to normal, immigration enforcement cannot. Unfettered access to medical care and testing for every member of our community is essential. If a few are unsafe, we are all unsafe.