Law360 (July 27, 2020, 9:20 PM EDT) -- A California federal court Monday held U.S. Immigration and Customs in contempt, finding that the agency violated its April orders by re-detaining a Vietnamese immigrant who has chronic asthma and is at risk for having complications from the coronavirus.
U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. said that even though the Ninth Circuit on April 25 issued a stay on his order for ICE to release hundreds of more detainees at the Adelanto, California, detention center where An Thanh Nguyen was being held, the agency wasn't allowed to re-detain him.
On April 23, Judge Hatter had granted class certification to a group of vulnerable detainees who allege that being held at the Adelanto detention center is a death sentence during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the circuit court order two days later prohibited more detainees from being released, Judge Hatter said that doesn't terminate the lower court's order for Nguyen to be released, according to the district court order released on Monday.
Rather, the appellate court order prevents the district court from enforcing its preliminary injunction requiring ICE to release hundreds of more detainees from the detention center, Judge Hatter said.
"The consequence of the circuit's stay, pending appeal, of the [district court's] preliminary injunction was the maintenance of the status quo," he said. "The status quo as to petitioner is that he remain released pending a final resolution."
As part of Judge Hatter's ruling, he ordered ICE to pay Nguyen the attorney fees it cost to file an emergency application for his release to prevent him from being deported this week.
On April 3, Nguyen was ordered release after Judge Hatter issued a temporary restraining order requiring ICE to set him free in light of the danger presented amid the pandemic of remaining in the detention center.
Following Nguyen's release, detainees at the Adelanto detention center filed a class action seeking their release, according to the April 13 petition. Because Nguyen is a member of the class, Judge Hatter stayed his case and noted that Nguyen was to remain released until the class action was resolved, according to an April 24 order.
ICE argued that it shouldn't be held in contempt since the circuit court's stay order terminated the district court rulings that required Nguyen's release. However, the agency noted that Nguyen had been released, but was reported to return to its Los Angeles Field Office on Monday.
Nguyen's attorney Jenny Zhao told Law360 in a statement that they are pleased Judge Hatter "held ICE accountable for this abuse of power and made clear that further abuses will not be tolerated."
"ICE's decision to arrest and detain Mr. Nguyen in defiance of a court order was inexcusable," Zhao said.
Counsel for ICE did not respond to a request for comment. Class counsel declined to comment.
The detainees are represented by Jessica Karp Bansal, Ahilan T. Arulanantham, Michael B. Kaufman, Liga Chia and Michelle Y. Cho of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Samir Deger-Sen, William M. Friedman, Amanda Barnett, Charles A. Berdahl, Kyle A. Virgien and Jessie A. Cammack at Latham & Watkins LLP.
Nguyen is represented by Jenny Zhao, Anoop Prasad and Monica Ramsay of Asian Americans Advancing Justice.
The government is represented by Victor M. Mercado-Santana, Sarah S. Wilson, Hans Chen and Jeffrey S. Robins of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Division and Daniel A. Beck and Hillary Morgan Burrelle of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.
The cases are Kelvin Hernandez Roman et al v. Chad F. Wolf et al., case number 5:20-cv-00768, and An Thanh Nguyen v. David A. Marin, case number, 5:20-cv-00646, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
--Editing by Steven Edelstone.
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