WASHINGTON (Nexstar) — Immigration and Customs Enforcement suddenly canceled its request for 45,000 N-95 medical masks after backlash from lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“This is not the time to use masks for deportations,” Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said. “People are dying and our front line health care workers are at great risk, as are our public safety officials.”
Merkley said hospitals and doctors have a greater need for masks than immigration agents. “Hospice nurses that are going into setting without masks. We have hospitals that are running short.”
Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer was among the other lawmakers pushing back on ICE.
“I think it’s important that we don’t set up a parallel system that competes with critical needs of our first responders in order to prop up some of the activities of ICE, which may be inappropriate,” Blumenauer said.
ICE asked for the surgical masks to be delivered to the agency within 30 days after a number of ICE agents and detainees tested positive for coronavirus.
But they canceled that request Thursday. In light of that development, Merkley is releasing the hold he placed on a DHS nominee.
ICE officials did not respond to a request for comment on what measures they will take to keep detainees and agents safe.