Protect Our Whole Community from COVID-19
The safety and rights of all Marylanders must matter to all of us. Three priorities focus the ACLU of Maryland’s COVID-19 work – reducing the number of people in prisons and jails, letting people out of immigration detention centers, and allowing people to vote fully and safely. We are issuing a call on our leaders to ensure that no one in our community is left behind as we work together to contain and overcome the global pandemic.
Incarceration facilities in Maryland are often overcrowded, many ban hand sanitizers, others have no access or limited access to cleaning supplies, and some facilities force people who make cents an hour to pay for soap. With these conditions, it is impossible to practice social distancing, to constantly wash your hands, to apply hand sanitizer, and to wipe down objects and surfaces. If someone, a staff member or someone newly detained or incarcerated, is carrying the coronavirus, it can spread like wildfire. This is ultimately a danger to us all.
We need to take action to reduce the number of people going to these facilities, and we need to release those Marylanders who are at risk for grave illness or death, those who are deemed safe to return back to the community, and those with short sentences or sentences that are close to ending. Taking informed, practical public health measures protects the health of people in prison, as well as staff members who return to their homes, family members, and communities.
Recent actions by the courts and by Governor Larry Hogan are important, but more must be done to contain COVID-19 by reducing the number of Marylanders being held in detention, which is a pressing racial justice issue.
“It is therefore an urgent priority in this time of national public health emergency to reduce the number of persons in detention as quickly as possible.” – Letter to Governor Hogan from faculty members of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
2. Compassion for People Caught in Immigration Detention Centers
To protect immigrants, the ACLU of Maryland has taken bold steps: We have sued ICE to release immigrants most at risk for COVID-19 and we filed an administrative complaint against an immigration judge who refused to postpone court dates, creating lasting consequences for immigrants who have waited years for a hearing, only to be told they cannot stay in the country anymore because they did not want to go into a public building in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Like people in jails and prisons, people in immigration detention centers live in close quarters and are not provided with sanitary spaces and proper medical care. Across the country, immigration detention centers have already reported confirmed cases of COVID-19, and substandard medical care has resulted in death for other illnesses, including a 16-year old boy who died of the flu at the Customs and Border Protection facility in Weslaco.
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, there was a serious lack medical care for immigrants in detention centers. An outbreak of the coronavirus in a Maryland detention center could be deadly. Reducing the number of people in Maryland’s detention centers is vital to maintaining the health and safety of immigrants, as well as the community at large. It is especially important to release vulnerable people who are at the most risk for serious illness or death.
3. Protecting the Rights of All Maryland Voters
Against this stark backdrop of urgent COVID-19 containment for our most vulnerable people, the ACLU of Maryland is also working to uphold fundamental democratic principles by ensuring that elections are still fair and accessible. We applaud the State Board of Elections for significantly expanding and encouraging voting by mail in order to protect the communities’ health, and for providing an in-person option on April 28 for the Special Election in the 7th Congressional District, and during early voting and on Election Day for the June 2nd Primary.
The in-person option is necessary for some voters with disabilities, voters needing language assistance, anyone who doesn’t receive their ballot (due to unstable housing, displacement during COVID, etc.), voters who can’t register to vote due to no internet or ID, and inactive voters who don’t receive a ballot.
Our rights are not suspended during a crisis. Even when our challenges are greatest, elections must be accessible and equitable for all. American democracy cannot be shortchanged.
We are currently facing a global pandemic. The seriousness of this is not lost on us. That is why the ACLU of Maryland is intent on making sure our state’s response to COVID-19 is scientifically justified and does not unnecessarily intrude on Marylanders’ constitutional rights. That means all of our rights. By taking strong measures to protect the rights of all people being detained in Maryland and all voters who must decide our next round of leaders, we can together be proactive and show compassion in this urgent fight against COVID-19.