Some undocumented immigrants are now being released from detention centers due to the spread of the coronavirus. There’s no other way to describe it than bittersweet. NPR is reporting that several hundred undocumented immigrants (though it’s important to note some of them are lawful U.S. citizens who were wrongfully detained) have been released from various detention centers around the country.
As of today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirms there are 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those in custody, while there are another 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among ICE employees working in ICE detention facilities, and another 81 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among ICE employees not assigned to detention facilities.
This news shouldn’t be seen as a kind gesture from ICE officials, but a move that has been forced upon them as people and organizations demand detainees’ release based on the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Immigration and legal advocates have sued ICE for their inhumane treatment of these individuals, and federal judges have sided with them.
For example, on April 8 federal Judge Maxine Chesney ordered the release of four persons in custody at the Yuba County and Mesa Verde detention centers.
🚨 BREAKING: ICE and the DHS's motion to dismiss our nationwide challenge to inhumane treatment in ICE facilities, Fraihat vs ICE lawsuit, has been DENIED.#COVID19 is proving to worsen conditions and access to medical treatment, ICE must #FreeThemAll https://t.co/iKbgAZugYu
— Southern Poverty Law Center (@splcenter) April 16, 2020
“It is undisputed that the housing units, meal area, and temperature checks do not comply with social distancing orders. None of the detained people are provided masks, and most of the jail staff do not wear masks,” Judge Chesney wrote in her order.
Yesterday, a federal judge in California ruled that a nationwide class-action lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can proceed, greenlighting a challenge to ICE’s system-wide failure to provide standard medical and mental health care and disability accommodations for people in its custody.
Southern Poverty Law Center said that the ruling in their favor comes amid the spread of COVID-19 in detention centers, a dangerous scenario that doctors and public health experts across the country have warned will only be made worse by ICE’s lack of pre-existing medical care and substandard detention center conditions.
“I was happy as hell when they came and called me — I couldn’t believe it,” Julio Colcas, a 55-year-old, Peruvian immigrant told NPR after his release from his detention center at the Essex County Correctional Facility in New Jersey. Colcas, who suffers from mental and physical disabilities will have to wear an ankle bracelet monitored by ICE. “When I left everyone was clapping — ‘Yay!'” he said. “By me leaving, it gives them hope it could happen to them, too.”