ICE Told To Lower Population In Calif. Detention Center

By Alyssa Aquino
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Law360 (April 24, 2020, 8:31 PM EDT) -- A California federal judge ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to immediately lower the number of people held at its Adelanto, California, center in light of the government's "callous disregard" to prisoner safety amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Hours after certifying 1,300 individuals at the Adelanto ICE detention center in a class action alleging their confinement is a "death sentence," U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. ordered the federal government to reduce the center's population by 100 before April 27, and by another 150 three days after that deadline.

However, the timetable was thrown into doubt when the Ninth Circuit issued an emergency order on Saturday freezing Judge Hatter's injunction for appellate review.  

Judge Hatter's Thursday order said that the population at the Adelanto ICE detention center could be reduced by releasing detainees, carrying out final deportation orders that have already been issued or transferring individuals to other facilities where they can maintain a safe social distance.

By May 4, the remaining immigrant population must be able "to maintain a social distance of 6 feet from each other at all times and at all places, including while sleeping, eating, showering, and going about other daily activities, except when there is a medical necessity or a safety emergency," he said late Thursday. 

Spokespeople for ICE and GEO Group Holding Inc., the company that runs the Adelanto center, said that there have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases among facility staff or detainees at the Adelanto facility.

In the paused Thursday order, Judge Hatter specified he would maintain jurisdiction over all class members, regardless of where they wind up. The class includes all individuals currently at the Adelanto facility and those who were detained there at any time between March 23 and when the order came out.

If the federal government breaks with any section of the order, Judge Hatter said he would consider mandating the immediate release of all Adelanto detainees. 

The California court also ordered ICE to enact all measures recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent the transmission of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, at the Adelanto facility. 

"All detainee common areas and shared items … shall be cleaned and disinfected by a professionally trained cleaning staff with appropriate equipment and supplies on a regular basis whenever those common areas and shared items are accessible to detainees," the court ordered.

Under the Thursday order, ICE must also provide, at no cost to the detainee, sufficient supplies of masks, gloves and hand soap under the Thursday order.

In an accompanying document, Judge Hatter explained he was intervening in the Adelanto facility in light of the government's "callous disregard" for class members' safety.

Individuals detained at the Adelanto facility filed suit against ICE on April 13, saying the agency was risking their lives by refusing to alter the conditions in which they're kept in the face of the global coronavirus crisis. 

"For many of the detained currently trapped at the facility, the government's refusal to act will be a death sentence," they said. 

At the Adelanto facility, four to eight people are forced to sleep in cells as small as 8 by 10 feet, and showers are so crowded that a person in one shower stall can reach out and press the neighboring shower's button, the detainees said.

The detained individuals are also responsible for cleaning the facility's common spaces and shared items, for which they're given limited cleaning supplies, the complaint alleges.

The ACLU's Ahilan Arulanantham, who is representing the detainees, said Friday, "We're heartened that this judge recognized that ICE detention is a tinderbox. It's a catastrophe waiting to happen and it requires decisive measures."

Currently, federal courts across the country are hearing several detained immigrants' legal challenge seeking their immediate release from ICE custody or court orders requiring the agency to abide by CDC guidelines to prevent the virus's transmission. 

On Wednesday, a Florida magistrate judge ordered ICE to significantly lower the number of people detained at three state facilities. And in early April, a Massachusetts federal court certified a class of immigrant detainees alleging they will inevitably catch the novel coronavirus if they remain in a county jail.

"Overall the courts have been quite strong in condemning the government's response to this pandemic and we hope that the government will heed that call and take necessary actions and take people out of harm's way," said Jessica Bansal, who is leading the ACLU team.

But of the ongoing litigation, the California order will affect the largest number of detained individuals so far, Arulanantham said.

When the ACLU attorneys called ICE to discuss how they will begin emptying the center, Arulanantham said, "the government attorney hung up on us."

The detainees are represented by Jessica Karp Bansal, Ahilan Arulanantham, Michael Kaufman and Michelle (Minju) Cho of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Samir Deger-Sen, William M. Friedman, Amanda Barnett and Jessie Cammack at Latham & Watkins LLP.

The government is represented by Victor M. Mercado-Santana of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Division, by Jeffrey S. Robins of the DOJ's Office of Immigration Litigation and by Daniel A. Beck and Hillary Morgan Burrelle of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

The case is Kelvin Hernandez Roman et al v. Chad F. Wolf et al., case number 5:20-cv-00768, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

--Editing by John Campbell.

Update: This story has been updated to include the Ninth Circuit's emergency order and to include information from ICE and GEO Group spokespeople.

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