Late last month, a federal court granted the request of 14 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees to be released due to concerns that they were especially vulnerable to COVID-19. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana gave the detention centers “14 days from May 26, 2020 to effect the contemplated releases.”
On Tuesday June 9, the latest possible date, the plaintiffs are finally in the process of being released.
“As we speak, folks are waiting in the parking lot of LaSalle [ICE Processing Center in Jena] to pick their family members up,” said Jeremy Jong, attorney for the plaintiffs.
The Lens attempted to contact some of the plaintiffs through Jong. None were immediately available for interviews.
The detainees were held in various Louisiana immigration detention centers while they awaited their hearings in immigration court. Each of them has one or more medical conditions that put them at a high risk of a severe or fatal case of COVID-19.
A group of civil rights attorneys, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed the suit in April, as outbreaks were being reported in immigration detention facilities. They argued that detaining the medically vulnerable individuals in close quarters with sometimes unsanitary conditions — circumstances presenting a high risk of infection and death — was at odds with the purpose of their confinement: to ensure attendance at their upcoming immigration hearings.
On Monday, the government filed a notice of appeal. However, the notice was withdrawn Tuesday.
A spokesman for ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The plaintiffs’ release appears to be indefinite, unless and until any of their individual cases result in lawful deportation proceedings. The release order states that ICE cannot take these 14 plaintiffs into custody again “unless an identified petitioner violates a condition of release, attempts to abscond, or commits any criminal offense.”
In the original complaint, the plaintiffs specified where they would go upon release. Almost all of them gave the location of a family member they would stay with – a sibling, spouse, child, uncle, or cousin, with an address in the United States. One plaintiff stated he would return to his own house in Austin, Texas.
According to the release order, DHS and ICE have the ability to set the conditions under which the plaintiffs were released. Jeremy Jong, attorney for the plaintiffs, said that all of the plaintiffs who were held at LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Jena were released with ankle monitors, and at least one person was released on the condition that they attend routine check-ins with their local ICE office.
Jong said he was “so happy” for the plaintiffs who were being released Tuesday, but stressed that the COVID-19 crisis is ongoing in many detention centers.
“Every day there are 20 or 30 calls from people who are panicked because of outbreaks of COVID in detention centers, who are afraid that they are going to die,” he said.
Jong mentioned the active outbreaks in Catahoula Correctional Center, which currently has 33 confirmed COVID-19 cases; Winn Correctional Center, which has 46; and the Alexandria Staging Facility which has 58, according to ICE’s online database.
“This problem is much bigger, he said. “What ICE is doing right now lacks any type of compassion or humanity, and is a threat to everyone. These outbreaks in these detention centers, as doctor after doctor, public health expert after public health expert has said, are not only placing the people inside at risk but also people in the surrounding communities.”