ICE responds to Rep. Omar’s COVID-19 concerns with deportation flight

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is responding to a letter from Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota that expressed “grave concerns” over a scheduled deportation flight to Somalia that may include passengers with COVID-19 symptoms.

“Deporting immigrants during a pandemic is cruel — but deporting immigrants infected with COVID-19 and exporting the virus to other countries is on an entirely different level of inhumane,” Rep. Omar wrote on Twitter, citing a Roll Call report.

ICE sent a response letter to Rep. Omar on Friday, indicating 39 people were on board the flight from Louisiana to Mogadishu. ICE said one of those passengers had previously tested positive for COVID-19, and was removed from the passenger list. A spokesperson told FOX 9 they were never on the flight.

In last week’s letter, Omar underscored that Somalia has only 15 intensive care unit beds for a population of 15 million, making it particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. For this reason, Somalia has refused to take deportees who test positive for COVID-19.

“If ICE tries to deport people who don’t have recent negative tests, they’re violating their agreement with the Somali government,” she told Roll Call. “The consequences could be absolutely catastrophic."

In its letter, officials said ICE will not typically remove immigrants who are not fit for travel -- including those with COVID-19. Any deportee with a temperature above 99 degrees is held from boarding for further evaluation, the agency added.

"ICE is cooperating with the Government of Somalia's requirement to test all Somali nationals being repatriated," officials wrote in the letter. "Any ICE detainee who fails to pass screening by a flight medical provider and/or is suspected of having a health condition potentially contagious to other detainees, staff, and/or third parties is denied boarding and referred to an ICE-approved facility for further screening and evaluation."