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Federal Judge Orders ICE to Consider Releasing Detainees at High Risk for COVID-19

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A masked cyclist passes a motorist protesting in a vehicle at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office last month in San Francisco. (Ben Margot/AP)

A federal judge in California on Monday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to "identify and track" every person in ICE detention at an elevated risk of complications from COVID-19 and to consider releasing those detainees regardless of their legal status.

Risk factors identified by the court include pregnancy, persons over the age of 55 and those with chronic health conditions.

ICE says there are 220 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those in ICE custody and 30 confirmed cases among ICE employees working in detention facilities.


In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal wrote that ICE has "likely exhibited callous indifference to the safety and well-being of [detained immigrants at risk.] The evidence suggests systemwide inaction that goes beyond a mere 'difference of medical opinion or negligence.' "

The preliminary injunction orders ICE to "identify and track" detainees with risk factors within 10 days, or within five days of being placed in custody. The judge ordered the agency to implement increased precautions to protect against infection in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards, and to consider release of high-risk detainees.

The agency has come under fire during the pandemic for not taking greater measures to slow the spread of the virus in detention centers. On its website, ICE says it has "evaluated its detained population based upon the CDC's guidance for people who might be at higher risk for severe illness as a result of COVID-19 to determine whether continued detention was appropriate.

"Of this population, ICE has released nearly 700 individuals ... This same methodology is currently being applied to other potentially vulnerable populations currently in custody and while making custody determinations for all new arrests."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.org.

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