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Federal Judge Denies Release Of ICE Detainees At Risk Of Coronavirus

<p>A&nbsp;detained person&nbsp;moves a cart of meals to be served to detainees at&nbsp;the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, in Tacoma, Wash.</p>

Ted S. Warren

A detained person moves a cart of meals to be served to detainees at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, in Tacoma, Wash.

A federal judge in Washington ruled Thursday he won’t allow detainees out of immigration custody over concerns about the coronavirus, despite worries from immigration advocates that some of the detainees are vulnerable to the COVID-19 disease.

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart denied a temporary restraining order that could’ve allowed some Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees to be released from the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, which houses ICE detainees from around the region.

In his six-page ruling, Robart said that there is no evidence that anyone at the detention center has COVID-19. The judge said ICE has taken precaution, like suspending social visits and isolating detainees who present symptoms consistent with the novel coronavirus.

The lawsuit was filed this week by the ACLU of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. The groups estimate there are between 50 and 100 people in detention who are at high risk of contracting the disease. Public health officials have said that people age 60 years and older and those with underlying health conditions are at particular risk from the virus.

“We strongly disagree with ICE's assertion that the harm is not imminent simply because ICE has not yet publicly confirmed any cases of COVID 19 at the NWDC,” legal director for NWIRP Matt Adams said. “We will continue pushing forward to challenge the detention of our vulnerable clients during this pandemic. I just hope our clients do not succumb to severe illness or death before we can procure their release.”

The groups argue detainees are like inmates in jails and prisons and are more susceptible to the virus. They say they’re in close proximity to one another and it’s difficult to maintain social distance.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.