A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) to find and implement rapid on-site testing following an outbreak that hospitalized two detainees and infected at least seven others at a California detention facility.
U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria also ordered ICE not to take in any new detainees at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility, where the outbreak occurred, and the implementation of a dorm set up for Covid-19 positive detainees. In the ruling, Chhabria noted the brazen email correspondence between ICE officials and GEO Group, Inc., the private for-profit company that manages the facility and that appeared to show blatant disregard for the health and safety of detainees.
"The defendants, having responded to the health crisis in such a cavalier fashion (even in the face of litigation and a string of court orders), have lost the credibility to complain that the relief requested by the plaintiffs is too rigid or burdensome," Chhabria wrote in the ruling. "The defendants have also lost the right to be trusted that they will accomplish on their own what the plaintiffs contend requires a court order to ensure."
Emails reveal that ICE directed GEO Group to deny staff & people detained at the Mesa Verde detention center #COVID19 testing over fears of what the test results would reveal.— Detention Watch (DWN) (@DetentionWatch) August 6, 2020
ICE reckless & cruel response to the pandemic puts ALL of our health at risk. #DefundHate #FreeThemAll https://t.co/kY7Ubc3BER
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The ruling comes as activists and health advocates continue to push for the release of detainees in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on residential living facilities, prisons and detention centers throughout the country.
"ICE continues to demonstrate its failure to act to prevent a [Covid-19] crisis, which has devastating consequences to those in its custody," San Francisco’s Public Defender Manohar Raju said Thursday. "This is particularly unconscionable as Mesa Verde is currently facing an entirely preventable [Covid-19] outbreak."