Judge Rejects Demand To Release Illegal Aliens In ICE Detention

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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A federal judge swatted away an attempt by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to release a group of illegal aliens in a Washington state detention center amid the coronavirus outbreak.

U.S. District Judge James L. Robart — who serves in the District Court for the Western District of Washington — on Thursday shot down a temporary restraining order request by nine detainees in the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center. The detainees argued that older migrants and those with medical conditions made them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU and other progressive groups, sued to be released from custody, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

Robart, however, found that the plaintiffs didn’t prove that the government was attempting to punish them by keeping them in detainment. A viral infection, he said, might be a possibility, but not a “likely” result of remaining in the detention center.

Jail Cell. Shutterstock

Man’s hands on the bars of a prison cell. Shutterstock

“There is no evidence that anyone at [the Tacoma Northwestern Detention Center] has COVID-19, and plaintiffs do not address the measures defendants are taking to prevent such a spread from occurring,” Robart said in his denial.

The judge found that, even if the plaintiffs had demonstrated risks, release wasn’t necessarily the answer. Robart instead said plaintiffs could request that the detention center’s conditions be improved.

“Finally, even if Plaintiffs could show a Fifth Amendment violation, Plaintiffs provide no authority under which such a violation would justify immediate release, as opposed to injunctive relief that would leave Plaintiffs detained while ameriolating any alleged violative conditions within the facility,” Robart said.

He continued: “Thus, the court concludes that Plaintiffs fail to meet their burden of clearly showing that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims.”

The decision is a major blow to the ACLU, the ACLU of Washington, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, three groups that filed their suit Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the plaintiffs vowed to continue fighting their case.

“Public health officials are in agreement — it is not a matter of if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in immigrant detention centers, but when,” said Eunice Cho, an ACLU lawyer, said in a statement released Thursday. “ICE should heed their warning. By refusing to immediately release our clients, ICE is jeopardizing their lives and the lives of its staff and their families.” (RELATED: State Department Raises Travel Alert, Urges Americans To Avoid International Travel)

The lawsuit battle comes after ICE announce it would scale back its operations amid the coronavirus outbreak, placing more focus on aliens that pose more of a “public safety threat.”

As of Friday morning, no aliens in ICE detention have tested positive for the coronavirus, but progressive and immigrant-rights groups argue the agency is not prepared should an outbreak in their facilities occur.

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