U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement filed a flurry of documents in response to a Los Angeles judge’s court order in which he accused federal officials of “straight up dishonesty” and demanded a drastic reduction in population at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center amid a major outbreak of COVID-19, according to court papers obtained Tuesday morning.
U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. ordered that the population of the immigration detention center, where the number of people imprisoned late last week was 772, must be reduced by 50 a day, beginning this past Monday, until it gets down to 475, according to his written order Friday in Los Angeles federal court.
ICE responded Monday with detailed information under seal about the current population of the facility, the same day Hatter granted bail applications for six detainees — the latest of dozens of applications he has granted since July.
ICE spokesperson Alexx Pons said in response to an earlier case ruling that the agency cannot comment on pending litigation, but said it should be noted that effective safety measures are in place.
“All detainees have been offered COVID-19 testing at Adelanto, and test results continue to be reported on a rolling basis,” according to the ICE statement. “This remains a complex and evolving situation — data is expected to change as the agency receives updated case information. The facility has restricted new intake cases to further protect those in custody.”
The court order is the latest development in the class action lawsuit Hernandez Roman v Wolf, originally filed in April by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California.
“Eight months into the pandemic, over 700 people remain imprisoned for civil immigration violations in an overcrowded jail where basic protective measures are impossible and dozens fall ill with COVID-19 each day,” said Jessica Bansal, senior staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. “(The judge’s) order confirms that our Constitution does not condone such basic disregard for human lives and safety.”
According to the ICE website, 162 of the people imprisoned at Adelanto as of last week have tested positive for the virus. In his order, Hatter wrote that the court has been “concerned for some time with the lack of candor” and “straight up dishonesty” exhibited by the government and its counsel in the case.
The judge said the court is reassessing information provided by the government and remains skeptical that “the facts and arguments that it previously perceived to be merely inaccurate or ambiguous might have been, actually, dishonest or, at best, disingenuous.”
Hatter said his concerns go far beyond technical matters and involves “human lives whose reasonable safety is entitled to be enforced and protected by the court pursuant to the United States Constitution.”
Previous decisions in the case pointed out that the Adelanto center was a tinder box for COVID-19, and noted that among the conditions there were:
— bunk beds placed only two and a half to three feet apart;
— tiny cells populated by four to eight people;
— detainees sharing sinks, toilets, counters and showers, with no disinfectant cleaner available for after use;
— showers placed less than six feet apart; and
— food preparation and service in a communal fashion, with six to 10 people eating at the same table.
Previous court rulings have declared urgent actions must be taken to alleviate conditions at the center, but the government repeatedly sought delays, even as COVID-19 spread through the 2,084-person capacity detention facility in the Mojave Desert, according to the ACLU.
The initial outbreak was most likely caused by a staff member who reported to work at the facility infected with COVID-19, but contact tracing has apparently not been completed and the source of the outbreak has not been identified, according to a previous judge’s order, which modified a prior injunction.
Pons said housing placements at Adelanto “have been adjusted based on test results to accommodate Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for isolation and monitoring. General housing modifications are intended to separate positive and negative detainees; detainees maintain access to the day room, showers/restrooms, law library, telephones, etc., in limited numbers to maximize social distancing,” according to ICE.
However, Hatter found that the ICE response to COVID-19, both the current outbreak and the continuing threat the virus poses to detainees, remains “inadequate” and “unreasonable.”
The latest ruling was part of a months-long battle over the safety of immigrants detained at the facility owned and operated by The GEO Group, a private prison company. An Oct. 30 pretrial hearing is scheduled and trial is set for Nov. 17 in downtown Los Angeles.
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