Tech Lobby: Release Jailed Prisoners to Avoid Coronavirus

An inmate uses a mirror to look outside his cell at the Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles on May 29, 2004. (Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Government officials should start releasing prisoners from jails to protect them from China’s coronavirus, says an activist for the tech industry’s lobbying group.

“We know that prisons are ill-equipped to handle COVID-19 spread, so let’s take this opportunity to release ppl and reduce prison populations (something we should be doing anyway),” said the tweet from Elissa Johnson, who works on prison and bail issues for

Her tweet was retweeted by Todd Schulte, the director of the, which lobbies federal and state governments to preserve the inflow of immigrant workers, consumers, and renters. Johnson’s Twitter bio says she is part of “@fwdus CJR team” and is a former lawyer at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In response to Breitbart News, Schulte urged the releases of elderly prisoners:

So we believe that commutation and clemency is a critical tool that is under-used in all states and all the time. And as it pertains to now, there is a critical health crisis that allowing elders who are incarcerated to return home is good for everyone: for smart public health, for them and their families, for people working at these facilities, and other people incarcerated.


Johnson’s tweet does spotlight a practical problem for federal and state governments: How to minimize the spread of China’s coronavirus in American jails, prisons, and migrant detention centers. Humans do not have antibodies against the new virus, which can be easily spread in close spaces and which can be deadly to older people. was created by wealthy West Coast investors to boost the “Gang of Eight” amnesty bill in 2013.

The group’s goal is to protect the investors’ supply of college-graduate immigrant labor and white-collar visa workers, including the roughly one million Indians who hold white-collar jobs in a wide variety of software, insurance, banking, technology, and healthcare companies.

The founding members include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, plus investors Jim Breyer, Ron Conway, John Doerr, and Sean Parker. Other prominent members of the group include Google’s Eric Schmidt and Greg Penner, the chairman of Walmart.

The amnesty bill failed, but has helped stall President Donald Trump’s populist immigration reforms, and it is still working to expand the supply of labor. For example, the group supports the S.386 bill pushed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), which would reward more Indian migrants by making them eligible for citizenship if they take jobs from American graduates. has tried to shape the immigration debate by diverting the media from the supply-and-demand conversation about jobs and wages, towards various ancillary issues, such as the DACA’migrants, Central American migrants, ICE enforcement, and bail reform.

The call for a prisoner release complements the effort by progressive groups to roll back immigration enforcement amid the coronavirus epidemic., for example, argued March 9 that President Donald Trump’s border enforcement is endangering migrants camped in Mexico:

Since February 2016, the Trump administration’s policies at the border have forced migrants to wait in Mexico for months at a time. US Customs and Border Protection officials have been limiting the number of asylum seekers they process at ports of entry each day, making migrants wait for their turn in Mexico, where migrant shelters are at capacity. Across Tijuana, Nogales, and San Luis Rio Colorado — the three largest ports of entry on the southern border — nearly 12,000 asylum seekers were on the waitlist to be processed as of November, the most recent month for which data available in court filings.

Now they are vulnerable to another threat: the novel coronavirus. A group of NGOs offering basic services to migrants in the camps is already working with the Mexican government to prepare for the possibility of a coronavirus outbreak.

“We know that this is something that could severely impact the encampment,” said Andrea Rudnick, cofounder of the nonprofit Team Brownsville, one of the organizations on the ground in Matamoros. “On a daily basis, we’re hearing of more cases. It won’t be long now before we have a case in Brownsville.” is active in several states.

The group is working with universities to protect the Occupational Practical Training program that allows foreign-born managers in U.S. companies to hire foreign graduates of U.S. colleges instead of U.S. graduates. The OPT program is very large — it provided work permits to almost 350,000 foreign graduates in 2018.

In New York, provided support for the campaign to grant drivers’ licenses to illegal migrants. That’s a boon to investors who own shares of food delivery firms, such as Doordash, Uber, and Grubhub.

In Georgia, the group has backed at least one politician who opposes the removal of illegal labor.

In Florida, the group funded a report that is being used as political ammunition against an E-verify bill championed by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis. is also trying to shape policy in Texas, home to GOP Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. A March 10 statement by the group said:

AUSTIN, TX – In yet another step in’ efforts toward commonsense reform to fix our nation’s broken immigration system, today announced an expansion of its work through new bipartisan partnerships with business organizations and trade associations in Texas. The partnerships will include a variety of engagements on immigration issues in Texas, including public forums, press events, association roundtables, and joint outreach to elected officials.


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