Judge starts releasing ICE detainees during coronavirus spread concerns

Immigration authorities voluntarily releases six

A FEDERAL JUDGE on Friday ordered the release of three immigrant detainees being held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Bristol County House of Correction to reduce the potential for the spread of COVID-19. 

US District Court Judge William Young also said the three detainees, who have no prior criminal arrests or pending charges, would be placed under house arrest. He noted six other detainees were voluntarily released by the agency in the past 24 hours.  

Young also said he wants a list of 50 other detainees that he could review tomorrow for more releases. He indicated his chief concern is the potential for the spread of COVID-19 at a facility where inmates are housed only two to three feet apart, instead of the recommended six feet.  

The ruling came 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 on behalf of detained immigrants. 

Young ordered that the three individuals being released to be picked up by car and taken to an approved residence where they will be quarantined for 14 days, and remain under house arrest unless they have court hearings or medical appointments. Local authorities and state police will be made aware of their new addresses. 

ICE is not to further arrest them without probable cause of a violation of the terms of release and a warrant from a federal magistrate judge, or an order of removal that the government believes can be executed,” said Young.  

Oren Sellstrom, of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said that the conditions of release worked for him.  

Young additionally ordered attorneys for ICE and the nBristol County Sheriff’s Office to provide a list of 50 more detainees for him to assess by 4 p.m. on Saturday. “It must be obvious under the premise I’m operating,” Young said, adding that no one seems to know how many people can be at Bristol County House of Correction while respecting the six-foot separation protocol.  

“It is not a function of this court to micromanage the detention facility or ICE’s priorityI would like you to agree on this issue,” said Young to government attorney Thom Kanwit. If the list is not provided by Saturday afternoon, the judge said he intends to set up a schedule to assess and release 10 people a day, without oral hearings, starting on Tuesday.  

He is also requiring that if ICE or Bristol County sheriff’s office considers sending additional detainees to be lodged at the North Dartmouth facility, that the court be notified immediately. He did not say whether or not he would then order all intake to be stopped.  

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, 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 long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, 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.

In a series of tweets on Friday afternoon, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said his opinion on the matter remains the same. “My position has been and remains that everyone – inmates, ICE detainees, people in the community – are more safe during this national epidemic when those ordered behind bars by a judge remain incarcerated.”

Federal immigration authorities declined to comment on Young’s decision and additional asks. “I will just remind that ICE only has authority to detain individuals for immigration purposes,” said spokesman John Mohan. “We cannot hold any detainee that has been ordered released by a judge. If ICE must release an ill or isolated detainee, health staff immediately notify the local public health agencies to coordinate further monitoring.”