Law360 (April 14, 2020, 9:50 PM EDT) -- The American Civil Liberties Union blasted a request from the federal government to re-detain immigrants who were ordered released due to their vulnerability to the novel coronavirus, calling the request "cruel and irresponsible."
The ACLU of Pennsylvania said Monday that returning 18 detainees to the state's York County Prison and Pike County Correctional Facility would be in violation of a district court's release order that was temporarily paused by the Third Circuit and goes against U.S. Attorney General William Barr's advice to consider releasing vulnerable prisoners into home detention during the pandemic.
As long as the immigrants comply with the terms of release, such as attending check-ins and wearing ankle monitors, ICE doesn't have a valid justification for taking them back to prisons where their lives will be put at risk, the ACLU said in a Monday letter to the government's counsel.
"Any attempt to return petitioners to detention, barring violation of the extant conditions, would be tantamount to a potential death sentence," ACLU attorney Witold Walczak wrote.
The ACLU, which is representing the detainees, filed a petition for their release earlier this month, identifying 22 detainees over the age of 65 with preexisting medical conditions. These detainees' age and health conditions make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, the group said.
U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III granted the ACLU's request April 7, finding that the immigrants would be irreparably harmed if they remained behind bars. Later that day, however, he temporarily stayed his order after ICE asked him to reconsider releasing the detainees.
On Friday, Judge Jones refused to consider ICE's request, and that same day the government appealed the judge's release order to the Third Circuit.
U.S. Circuit Judge D. Brooks Smith temporarily stayed the district court's release order Friday and instructed the ACLU to explain why the release order shouldn't be stayed pending the government's appeal of the federal court order.
Walczak told Law360 in a statement that the ACLU is currently preparing its response to the government's request to stay the district court order pending appeal.
"The U.S. government's determined effort to return the ACLU's older and medically vulnerable clients to jails infected by the COVID-19 virus, where chance of serious illness and death are sky high, is irresponsible and downright cruel," Walczak said.
Counsel for the government did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The detainees are represented by Carla G. Graff, Will W. Sachse, Thomas J. Miller and Kelly A. Krellner of Dechert LLP, and Muneeba S. Talukder, Witold J. Walczak and Vanessa L. Stine of the ACLU.
The government is represented by Joanne M. Sanderson, Harlan W. Glasser and Richard D. Euliss of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
The case is Hope et al. v. Doll et al., case number 1:20-cv-00562, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
--Editing by Breda Lund.
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