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Early Arrival: Judge Orders Immigrants Released from Detention Due to COVID-19

Monday's Edition of Early Arrival: Judge Orders Government to Release Migrant Children due to COVID-19 — ICE Continue to Shuttle Detainees Around the Country During Pandemic — Supporters Tell SCOTUS of Dreamers on COVID-19 Frontlines

Mazin Sidahmed

Mar 30, 2020

New Jersey State House

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the release of 10 immigrants held in county jails in New Jersey due to the coronavirus. All of them were at acute risk due to their underlying health conditions. 

The petition for the release was filed by the Brooklyn Defender Services. U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres agreed with the plaintiffs that the immigrants were entitled to a temporary release due to the risk posed to them by being in jails. She also chastised Immigration and Customs Enforcement for inadequate preparation for the coronavirus outbreak.  The Legal Aid Society and Bronx Defenders won the release of an additional four detainees on Friday in a separate case. 

Immigration advocates, experts, and doctors have raised the alarm over the past month over the risk that jails and immigration detention centers pose as potential hotspots for spreading the coronavirus. There are approximately 38,000 immigrants in ICE detention around the country. These court orders have followed similar orders in California and Massachusetts. ICE has released some immigrants from detention without court orders but has resisted calls to release all immigrants with underlying health conditions and those without criminal histories. 

A detainee at Bergen County jail became the first person to test positive for COVID-19 in immigration detention two weeks ago. Several prison guards and another detainee in the state’s three detention centers have since tested positive. Bergen County jail has also refused to take in any more ICE detainees. 

In the buildup to the pandemic, ICE packed detention centers with new detainees as part of its targeted campaign against New York. Politico, The Intercept


Judge Orders Government to Release Migrant Children due to COVID-19

A federal judge ordered the government on Saturday to release migrant children who are being held in federal custody after four children at a New York shelter tested positive for COVID-19. U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee made the order under the Flores agreement, which dictates the guidelines for the treatment of migrant children in federal custody. There are 3,600 children in shelters across the country that are contracted by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. A further 3,300 are being held by ICE in family detention centers. Documented reported on Thursday that at least one child at a shelter in Westchester has tested positive for the virus. The New York Times

Varick St. Immigration Court Moved Hearings to Texas

All hearings at the Varick Street immigration court will now be headed by judges in Fort Worth, Texas, the Department of Justice told attorneys on Thursday. All cases will be heard by judges remotely from the Fort Worth Immigration Adjudication Center, where judges hear cases remotely from around the country. The decision comes after weeks of debate and public pressure over whether to close the Varick Street immigration court. Court staff, immigration lawyers and prosecutors have all called for courts to be closed, but the DOJ has so far insisted on continuing hearings for immigrants who are being held in detention. Read more at Documented


ICE Continue to Shuttle Detainees Around the Country During Pandemic

While the federal government urged Americans to avoid nonessential travel, one immigrant detainee was taken on nine different flights around the country by ICE. Sirous Asgari was taken on chartered jets from Louisiana to Texas to New Jersey by ICE agents as they continue to move immigrants around from one detention center to another. Swift Air and World Atlantic Airlines have operated at least 16 flights since March 16, when the government implored people to limit travel and told some attorneys that ICE would be halting travel around the country. ProPublica

Central America Afraid the U.S. will Deport COVID-19 

Guatemala became the first country to publicly refuse deportation flights from the U.S. earlier this month before making a u-turn and allowing the flights to continue. A total of 66 Guatemalans were deported from Brownsville, Texas two weeks ago. Central American countries are concerned about importing the coronavirus from the U.S., which has become the epicenter of the global pandemic. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are highly vulnerable to the pandemic but are dependent on U.S. economic and military support, which makes for a difficult calculus. The Trump administration appears adamant on continuing deportations during the pandemic. The Los Angeles Times

Family Placed in Quarantine in ICE Detention

A 5-year-old girl with pneumonia-like symptoms was placed in isolation with her mother at a family detention center in Pennsylvania. The girl was detained with her parents at the Berks Family Residential Center outside Philadelphia. ICE called an ambulance when the girl said she had difficulty breathing. At the hospital, she received a chest X-ray and COVID-19 test before being sent back to the detention center, where she was placed in a medical isolation unit. The family is part of a lawsuit filed by a number of immigrant advocacy groups calling for the release of families in ICE detention. Mother Jones

Detainees Allegedly Clash with Guards in Detention

Detainees at a Louisiana detention center claim they have been shot with rubber bullets and attacked with chemical agents by guards in riot gear. ICE confirmed last week that seven people were pepper sprayed at the Pine Prairie processing center in Louisiana. At the LaSalle ICE center, also in Louisiana, guards allegedly sprayed a man with “toxic gas” after some detainees encouraged others to forgo food as it may contain COVID-19. ICE confirmed there was a use-of-force incident at the LaSalle detention center. Detainees at detention centers across the country are going on strike to protest their treatment during the coronavirus pandemic. The Guardian

Federal Court Blocks Trump Admin. Bond Rule

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling to block a Trump administration policy of denying bond hearings to asylum seekers on Friday. Attorney General William Barr had announced the policy, which would block some asylum seekers who have established a credible fear and are subject to deportation from having a bond hearing. This would force them to remain in detention, a move that was fiercely opposed by immigration lawyers and advocates. They argued there was no reason to detain people who had passed credible fear interviews indefinitely. CNN

Washington — Supporters Tell SCOTUS of Dreamers on COVID-19 Frontlines, Seasonal Visas Expedited, Foreign Nurses Face Red Tape During Crisis

In the Supreme Court case over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, a brief filed on Friday asked the court to consider the importance of Dreamers during the COVID-19 pandemic. About 27,000 DACA recipients work in health care and many of them are on the frontlines of the fight against the virus. The Association of American Medical Colleges and other groups said in the brief that ending the program now and potentially taking work authorization from those health care workers could be a disaster “catastrophic.”

President Trump tried to end the program but was met with lawsuits and several federal judges ruled against the Trump administration. The Supreme Court was set to rule on the fate of the program this summer. Judges recently heard arguments and the conservative majority seemed inclined to terminate the program. The New York Times

Concerns about a shortage of farm labor during the spring harvest has led the government to ease rules on seasonal foreign worker visas. Applicants will no longer need an in-person interview to get visas for farm or other seasonal work. Seasonal workers on H2-A visas account for as much as 10% of farmworkers in the U.S. The Wall Street JournalNurses from the Philippines have faced more red tape in hoping to get work in the U.S. due to restrictions from the Trump administration. The issue has grown more urgent due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the nation worries about a shortage of health care workers. Bloomberg

Mazin Sidahmed

Mazin Sidahmed is the co-executive director of Documented. He previously worked for the Guardian US in New York. He started his career writing for The Daily Star in Beirut and he also contributed to Politico New York.




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