Judge seeks COVID-19 test data on ICE detainees

Bristol facility has said only 6 tested

US DISTRICT COURT Judge William Young is ordering the Bristol County sheriff’s office to begin submitting reports on the number of immigration detainees in its custody who have been tested for COVID-19, and the results.

Young, who has released 47 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees from Bristol County’s Dartmouth facility as a result of an ongoing class action lawsuit related to COVID-19 filed by the advocacy group Lawyers for Civil Rights, also ordered that each detainee being released be given a list of conditions on which their release is contingent.

Two other federal courts in New Jersey and Florida have required similar types of reports on ICE detainee testing.

The Bristol County Sheriff’s office has said eight detainees at its facilities have been tested for COVID-19, at least six of them ICE detainees. The office has said no detainees have tested positive. The office said seven staff and correctional officers have tested positive.

Nationwide, ICE posts online a running list of positive tests at facilities housing detainees. As of Friday morning, that list indicated 297 immigrant detainees had tested positive nationwide. That list also shows facilities where ICE staff have tested positive, but does not include numbers at places that have contracts, like at Bristol where seven staff and correction officers have tested poisitive.

“We are encouraged by the judge’s interest in seeing testing numbers. Knowing what testing is, or is not occurring, is vital to understanding the public health implications of the current situation in Bristol County,” said Oren Sellstrom of Lawyers for Civil Rights.

Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, said the facility will fully comply with the judge’s order. The facility already submits the data to a special master appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court, but that data does not distinguish between ICE detainees and regular county jail inmates.

04.20.20

Screenshot of a report to the Supreme Judicial Court from Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, showing number of COVID-19 tests administered, and number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

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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 special master is monitoring the release of inmates awaiting trial in state and county facilities. The release of prisoners is being done to reduce crowding in facilities and help avoid the spread of COVID-19.

On a federal level, Reuters discovered on Thursday that ICE will begin testing 2,000 people being deported. Some people in Bristol County have orders of deportation, so this testing could impact them. Many immigrants with coronavirus have been deported to Guatemala, prompting that country to suspend flights from the US multiple times over the past six weeks.