Wuhan Epidemic: ACLU Sues to Release Migrants from Detention Centers

Samples are tested for respiratory viruses, which procedure will be used to test the novel

The ACLU is asking a judge to release migrants from a Seattle detention center because China’s Wuhan epidemic is spreading through the state.

“Public health experts say releasing immigrant detainees who are at heightened risk for COVID-19 due to age or medical condition is “a critically important way to meaningfully mitigate that risk,” said a tweet from the ACLU, which opposes most border enforcement.

The Wuhan virus spreads rapidly among people who live in close contact with each other. It can impose crippling sickness on some young and healthy people, but it is deadly to many sick or old people.

Almost 40,000 people are being held in roughly 20 immigration detention centers — partly because the ACLU has sought to kill the laws and barriers which deter migrants from illegally sneaking into U.S. workplaces and residential areas. The Department of Homeland Security considers Wuhan to be a major risk and has reportedly shut down family visits to minimize the chance of a disease outbreak in a detention center.

One fix to the dilemma would be a rapid return of the illegal migrants to their home countries, according to Jessica Vaughan, the policy director at the Center for Immigration studies. “Wouldn’t they be more at risk on the outside?” she responded via Twitter. “Maybe repatriation to [their] home country would be safest.”

A Buzzfeed report spotlighted the foreign detainees who are most vulnerable to China’s epidemic::

The filing in the US District Court for the Western District of Washington identified nine immigrants in custody at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, including a 48-year-old Jamaican woman with cholangitis, a progressive liver disease, who has been told she has only 10 to 12 years to live. The advocates said the woman was “critically vulnerable to COVID-19 because of her autoimmune disease and diabetes.”

“ICE has the responsibility to protect the safety of all who are in immigration detention. As a first step, it should immediately release our clients who have already been identified by the federal government as being most at risk because of this epidemic,” said Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which joined the ACLU in the lawsuit. “If it waits to react to worst-case scenarios once they take hold, it will already be too late.”

The virus is already forcing border agencies to screen deportees before they are sent back to cooperating countries, including Guatemala and El Salvador. Deportees with high temperatures are kept off the returns flights out of concern that the deportees might carry the disease from U.S. detention centers into the vulnerable countries and possibly wreck the countries’ cooperation.

The Department of Homeland Security responded to Buzzfeed.com:

“Detainees who meet CDC criteria for epidemiologic risk of exposure to COVID-19 are housed separately from the general population. ICE places detainees with fever and/or respiratory symptoms in a single medical housing room, or in a medical airborne infection isolation room specifically designed to contain biological agents, such as COVID-19,” ICE said in a statement describing its process for isolating detainees who potentially have the disease. “This prevents the spread of the agent to other individuals and the general public. ICE transports individuals with moderate to severe symptoms, or those who require higher levels of care or monitoring, to appropriate hospitals with expertise in high risk care.”

Pro-migration Democrats are also urging the release of many migrants into the United States. “We urge you to prioritize the health and safety of those in your custody and employment by reducing detention numbers in a safe and swift manner, including by expeditiously placing children in homes and releasing non-priority detainees,” said the March 13 letter signed by the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Joaquin Castro, (D-Texas).

On March 15, Buzzfeed also spotlighted an effort by progressives to shutter the packed immigration courts for several weeks:

The union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement prosecutors joined immigration judges and lawyers in calling for the immediate shutdown of courts across the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus, an unprecedented alliance that signals the deep anxiety that has spread through all facets of the US immigration system.

“These are not normal times,” Fanny Behar Ostrow, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 511, which represents ICE prosecutors, told BuzzFeed News. “This is a real crisis. We all have the same interests and the same concerns.” Ostrow is an ICE prosecutor in Miami.

Courtrooms can be cramped as judges, attorneys, family members, experts and others gather for hearings every day. These conditions, said Ostrow, are particularly concerning for ICE prosecutors who in recent days have been panicked, describing people coughing and appearing sick continuing to come to courtrooms.

Some state and local governments have begun releasing U.S. criminals amid the virus. WHJL.com reported:

Administrative Judge Brendan Sheehan told the I-TEAM earlier this week that inmates are already in poor health, and it wouldn’t take much for the coronavirus to spread wildly behind bars.

Sheehan also said almost any kind of inmate could be considered.

“You gotta remember, the goal of this is to protect the community and the safety of the inmates. If someone’s a serious violent person, well, we’re using our discretion to make sure the community’s safe also,” he told the I-TEAM on Thursday.


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