Emergency filing demands release of ICE detainees to contain coronavirus


WASHINGTON,(NEXSTAR) – The ACLU of Louisiana and Southern Poverty Law Center want certain migrants freed from detention centers for their own safety during the coronavirus crisis.

The two groups filed an emergency motion this week to put more pressure on the Trump administration.

“All of these facilities are like a petri dish for the virus to just explode,” said Bruce Hamilton, the staff attorney for the ACLU of Louisiana.

Hamilton said the state’s crowded ICE facilities, with their close quarters and limited resources like protective equipment and soap, are a ticking time bomb for an outbreak.

“These are not hygienic facilities,” Hamilton said. “They’re not good facilities. The conditions are really deplorable, and there’s really no way for the people detained there to protect themselves.”  

Hamilton has been working for months to get asylum seekers who have passed their review released on parole to live with their sponsors while they pursue their cases. The ACLU of Louisiana’s 2019 lawsuit with the Southern Poverty Law Center asks a judge to order the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to conduct individual assessments of these migrants.

“We sued the government to force them to start following their own rules,” Hamilton said. “What we’ve seen has essentially been a rubber stamp in this administration for all of these asylum seekers that says either flight risk or something else.”

Hamilton said the pandemic makes it a matter of life and death, which is why the organizations filed the emergency motion for preliminary injunction to try to speed up the process.

“Many of them are eligible for release, and they should be released,” Hamilton said. “That has just not been happening.

The ACLU nationwide has also been pushing to temporarily release certain non-violent inmates from federal prisons, which are in close proximity to many of these ICE detention centers.

The Bureau of Prisons has reported three deaths due to the virus and many more cases in one Louisiana facility alone.

“We want to see people released who can be released,” Hamilton said.

Members of Congress say they understand the issue.

“It is a way to not just protect the prisoners but to protect the prison guards and the people who work there,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, who is a physician.

However, Cassidy said the decision should be left up to the Bureau of Prisons.

“BOP’s got a tough job,” Cassidy said. “They’ve got to figure it out.”

President Trump is considering an executive order to temporarily release some federal inmates, but the idea has been getting pushback from Democrats and Republicans.

The government response for Hamilton’s emergency motion for ICE detainees is due next Tuesday ahead of an April 9 hearing.

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