Judge indicates he plans to release ICE detainees

Says fewer people at jail reduces risk of infection

US DISTRICT COURT JUDGE William Young said on Thursday that he is considering releasing immigrants being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Bristol County jail to reduce the threat of COVID-19 infection.

During a videoconference with parties to a class action lawsuit brought by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Yale Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, Young said he may act as soon as Friday. “The numerical evidence seems incontrovertible, that the fewer people that are in the center, the greater the chance for health and safety for the people who remain there,” Young said.

Young declined to certify the entire class action, but instead “provisionally certified” five individual subclasses based off a chart provided to him by the Bristol County Sheriff’s office. The chart lists the names, medical conditions, charges, and detailed information about the 148 immigrant detainees.

The group Young is seeking to release most quickly has 11 detainees without any previous criminal history that also don’t have any pending charges.

“I confess I’m somewhat surprised about this, given the administration’s statement that ICE isn’t arresting such people,” said Young. “The only argument is that they aren’t here legally in the US.”

The second subclass consists of detainees with nonviolent charges against them who have underlying medical conditions; the third is those with nonviolent crimes who don’t have underlying health conditions; and the final two involve detainees  with serious pending charges against them and 17 with serious convictions.

Oren Sellstrom, of Lawyers for Civil Rights, described in a brief that at least 111 of the immigrants have never been convicted of a violent crime.

When government attorney Thom Kanwit asked to reassess and return to arguments on Tuesday because of the class division, Young said that the decision was based off of the very chart he provided, and “that timeline is, candidly, too long.”

The hearing came the same day that Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson’s office announced a health care professional within the ICE detention facility tested positive for COVID-19.

The nurse, an employee of the county’s contracted medical vendor Correctional Psychiatric Services, developed a low-grade fever on March 25 near the end of an overnight shift. She hasn’t been back since and received a positive test for COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Hodgson said no other staffers or inmates or detainees have been infected.

“Any headlines or press releases from political activist organizations claiming infections or outbreaks are completely false and reckless,” said Hodgson.

Young, however, said he doesn’t want to wait until infections occur. “If we wait for someone to test positive, we’ve waited too long, it seems,” he said.

The suit alleges that the facility is overcrowded, with many detainees a mere two feet apart as opposed to the recommended six feet suggested for social distancing. The judge reviewed photographs of the facility confirming those measurements.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

The suit lists two plaintiffs, Maria Alejandra Celimen Savino and Julio Cesar Medeiros Neves. Savino suffers from asthma and Neves has extreme depression and anxiety, which his attorneys say is exacerbated by risk of exposure to the virus.

Neves was one of 50 ICE detainees who recently sent letters to the Massachusetts congressional delegation, Hodgson, the state Department of Public Health, ICE, and civil rights attorneys alleging unsanitary conditions.