NEW YORK - Nine leaders at evangelical Christian organizations are urging the Trump administration to release people from immigration detention facilities "who do not pose a threat to public safety" during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly those who are elderly or otherwise at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.
In a letter sent Monday to Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, the evangelicals called for alliances with religious and other local groups to help find released detainees "safe accommodations in which to ‘shelter in place' for as long as such practices are advised." Such actions to aid social distancing in detention, the faith leaders wrote, would help staff as well as detained migrants.
"Our concern is rooted in our Christian belief that each human life is made in the image of God and thus precious, and, like you, we want to do everything possible to minimize the loss of life as a result of this pandemic," the prominent evangelicals wrote.
The evangelicals signing the letter said they would "encourage the many churches and ministries within our networks to provide any assistance they can" to help released detainees shelter safely.
Shared with The Associated Press in advance of its public release, the letter was signed by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention; Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; and Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council, among others.
Rodriguez delivered a prayer at President Donald Trump's inauguration and has advised Trump on immigration, but has previously criticized some elements of the administration's immigration policy.
The evangelical letter sent Monday is not the first public call for the administration to release low-risk individuals from immigration detention. Immigrant advocates have filed lawsuits aimed at securing the release of detainees during the peak of the pandemic, particularly older or high-risk individuals.
ICE reported 32 confirmed cases of coronavirus among detainees at its facilities as of last week, and has said 11 employees working at detention facilities have tested positive for the virus.