Federal Judge Orders ICE to Reduce Detainee Population Amid Pandemic

Detainees exercise at an ICE processing center in Adelanto, Calif., on Aug. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

(CN) — A federal judge in Los Angeles ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thursday to reduce the amount of detainees held in its Adelanto processing facility in order to reduce exposure to the coronavirus.

In a 7-page order, U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. granted a preliminary injunction request to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a class action lawsuit over conditions at Adelanto and other ICE detention facilities.

Hatter ordered Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf to “immediately reduce the detainee population at the 1,940-bed detention center to such a level that would allow the remaining detainees to maintain a social distance of 6 feet from each other at all times and at all places.”

The judge wrote the detention center must reduce its population by 250 detainees by April 30. If federal officials don’t comply, Hatter said he would “consider the immediate release of class members.”

Hatter wrote that officials can reduce the population by releasing detainees with or without conditions, deporting those who have final deportation orders and have exhausted all appeals or transferring detainees to other facilities that are not as crowded.

According to the ACLU lawsuit, detainees in the ICE facility sleep in crowded cells, cram together for meals and are forced to use communal bathrooms, making social distancing impossible. Adelanto currently holds about 1,300 detainees.

“They have little or no access to hand sanitizer, gloves, or masks,” the ACLU wrote in its 22-page petition. “The government’s own medical subject matter experts have described this as a ‘tinderbox scenario.’”

There have been 297 confirmed cases of infection in immigration detention facilities, according to ICE.

“Holding people in civil immigration detention in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic without taking basic steps to protect them from infection from this deadly virus from is, as the court found ‘inconsistent with contemporary standards of human decency,’” said ACLU SoCal Senior Attorney Jessica Bansal in a statement.

She added, “We are relieved that people detained at Adelanto will now receive the protections for their lives and health that every human being deserves.”

Officials from ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment made after business hours Thursday.

Inmates in state prisons in Washington state and Wisconsin weren’t so lucky.

A divided Washington Supreme Court denied a request Thursday to release thousands of inmates from Evergreen State prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision came after the justices heard oral arguments via the Zoom teleconferencing app earlier in the day.

In the 5-4 ruling, the justices found the inmates had not shown the state wasn’t doing enough to address the risk of Covid-19.

On Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to take up a lawsuit by two inmates with underlying health concerns who were seeking release. In an unsigned order, the justices said the high court lacked authority to decide when prisoners should be released and said the lawsuit should have been filed in a lower court first — not directly with the Supreme Court.

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