By Alan Gomez, Maria Clark and Rebecca Plevin | 8 April 2020
USA TODAY — … Attorney General William Barr ordered the release of some medically vulnerable inmates from federal prisons, and sheriffs released thousands of jail inmates to minimize the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks. There has been no similar effort made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which holds more than 34,000 detainees, the majority of which – 60% – have no criminal record and are detained over only a civil immigration violation.
The agency released 160 detainees in recent weeks, but that hasn’t been nearly enough for detainees, politicians, doctors and human rights groups pleading with the Trump administration to, at the very least, release detainees with poor health conditions. There has been little response from ICE, so the groups filed a wave of lawsuits around the country that resulted in judges ordering the release of dozens more detainees from California to Massachusetts to New Jersey.
When U.S. District Judge John Jones ordered ICE to release 11 chronically ill detainees from a Pennsylvania detention center last week, he wrote that he issued the order because he could not be party to the “unconscionable and barbaric” possibility of those detainees contracting coronavirus.
ICE facilities “are plainly not equipped to protect Petitioners from a potentially fatal exposure to COVID-19,” wrote Jones, who ordered an additional 22 ICE detainees freed Tuesday. “If we are to remain the civilized society we hold ourselves out to be, it would be heartless and inhumane not to recognize Petitioners’ plight. And so we will act.” […]