Last month immigration rights groups sued the federal government to release migrants in South Florida detention centers because of the risks of infection from the new coronavirus. That’s what a U.S. judge is now ordering the Trump Administration to do.
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In her ruling Thursday night, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to begin releasing hundreds of non-criminal migrant detainees.
Cooke called their continued detention “cruel and unusual punishment” since the migrants have either been infected or exposed to the new coronavirus. Most are locked up in the Krome Detention Center in Miami while others are at the Broward Transtitional Center in Pompano Beach or the Glades County facility in Moore Haven.
“Once ICE came out and admitted that they were engaging in group cohorting of these inmates – or basically a group quarantining – we knew that immediate relief was necessary in this case,” says Miami immigration attorney Anthony Dominguez, of the Prada & Urizar firm, who is working with the University of Miami Law School’s Immigration Clinic. It’s one of the several groups, including Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami, that sued ICE.
Cooke also ordered ICE to issue regular accountability reports on the progress of migrant detainee releases. ICE had said before the ruling that that would be too administratively cumbersome. The agency also argued Cooke didn’t have proper jurisdiction in the case.
Dominguez acknowledges the ruling will mean extra work for ICE but said, "since this pandemic started within our country and around the world, these are the life-or-death issues and reporting that the government should have already been doing.”
ICE said it will not yet comment on Judge Cooke's ruling, and in a statement insisted its "detained population nationwide has declined 20 percent since the beginning of March."