The judge said coronavirus isn’t a sufficiently compelling reason to release “high-risk” immigration detainees.
A federal judge in Maryland has declined to release two people from in-state immigration detention centers amidst the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Both men, says The Baltimore Sun, are at elevated risk for contracting coronavirus and suffering the worst of its forms. In an attempt to win release prior to an in-house outbreak, the detainees filed a lawsuit against the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Their suit, says the Sun, was supported by attorneys from the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Maryland.
“Even with the measures ICE has purported to take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities, immigration detention centers are a hotbed for spread of the virus,” the ACLU’s Maryland suit said.
But the Justice Department pointed out that Maryland—unlike other states—has yet to report any confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases within its immigration detention facilities. Justice attorney Vincent Vaccarella thereby called the ACLU’s fears of contagion a “purely speculative risk,” and one which wouldn’t entitle any current inmates to immediate release.
U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang seemed inclined to agree with the government. In denying the ACLU’s request, Chaung said he didn’t think the threat of coronavirus inside detention centers—as opposed to outside—“inflicts unconstitutional punishment on high-risk detainees.”
“To adopt petitioners’ position would be to hold that the detention of any high-risk immigration detainee during the pandemic is necessarily unconstitutional, a position that the court is not presently prepared to adopt,” Chaung wrote.
However, Chuang said he’d be willing to “quickly” alter his verdict in case the plaintiffs’ detention center experiences a coronavirus outbreak.
This lawsuit, though, wasn’t the first to be filed by the ACLU and its allies as coronavirus increases its presence state-by-state.
The ACLU in particular has taken to filing similar requests in courts across the country—as LegalReader reported last week, the organization has launched lawsuits seeking the release of immigration detainees in about a half-dozen other states. Last week, federal judges in California and Pennsylvania sided with immigration activists, ordering the release of several detainees from in-state ICE facilities.
“Our Constitution and laws apply equally to the most vulnerable among us, particularly when matters of public health are issue,” wrote Pennsylvania-based District Judge John Jones III. “This is true even for those who have lost a measure of their freedom.”