Judge Denies Release of Immigrant Detainees in California’s Covid-19 Hotspot

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Calling the Imperial Regional Detention Facility “a lone bright spot for Imperial County,” a federal judge Wednesday declined the American Civil Liberty Union’s request to order the release of at-risk immigration detainees in the facility, which despite being in the center of California’s coronavirus hotspot, has only had two detainees test positive for Covid-19.

In a brief 5-page order, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw denied the ACLU’s request to release medically vulnerable immigrant detainees at the IRDF at-risk of contracting Covid-19, finding the detention facility had taken appropriate prevention and protection measures to ensure the facility doesn’t experience the outbreak calamity that happened 135 miles west at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego.

Sabraw, a George W. Bush appointee, noted education and training for staff and detainees alike, along with enhanced sanitation, social distancing, use of personal protective equipment and quarantining new detainees were among the steps taken in addition to reducing the overall detainee population to prevent an outbreak within the facility.

Only two detainees had tested positive for Covid-19, who have since recovered, a testament to the success of the preventative measures, Sabraw wrote.

“The conditions inside IRDF are a lone bright spot for Imperial County, generally, which, as of last week, had the highest rate of Covid-19 spread and highest Covid-19 mortality rate in California,” Sabraw wrote, in denying the request for a preliminary injunction.

In seeking the preliminary injunction, the ACLU argued because the IRDF had not tested all detainees and wasn’t maximizing social distancing due to the closure of housing pods for construction maintenance, it infringed on detainees’ constitutional right to life.

But like he did during the virtual court hearing on the matter, Sabraw identified distinctions between the two Southern California detention facilities, noting unlike the OMDC, medically vulnerable detainees were not being housed alongside others who had tested positive for Covid-19.

For the six pending tests awaiting results, Sabraw stated his confidence the IRDF could prevent any potential coronavirus spread should any of the tests come back positive.

“Defendants appear to have the necessary protective measures in place to protect other detainees from exposure and infection,” Sabraw wrote.

“Given the current conditions at IRDF, Plaintiffs have not shown a likelihood of success on their substantive due process claim,” he added.

Monika Langarica, Immigrants’ Rights staff attorney for the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties said in a statement they were disappointed with the order.

“We are disappointed with the court’s decision, which needlessly imperils the health and safety of people at IRDF. We will continue to closely monitor the situation and urge the release of people detained in dangerous conditions during this pandemic.” 

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