Law360 (April 6, 2020, 5:33 PM EDT) -- A Louisiana federal judge on Monday refused to release U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees with medical conditions who argue they could die if they contract COVID-19, finding the court doesn't have the jurisdictional authority to decide their case.
In a seven-page order, U.S. District Judge Greg G. Guidry said it would be an overreach for him to grant the detainees' petition for writ of habeas corpus, particularly since they haven't shown that a district court is the only venue that can offer them the relief they request.
"They have not demonstrated a legal basis, much less a benefit or necessity, for this court to reach out beyond its territorial limits to exercise jurisdiction over multiple detainees in three other judicial districts, which fall within the territorial jurisdictions of two different circuit courts," the judge wrote.
The ruling marks an end to a sealed lawsuit that the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild filed Wednesday on behalf of detainees against ICE, its top officials and local wardens. The suit seeks the release of 17 medically vulnerable detainees in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, according to the order.
The detainees claim that their various medical conditions put them at a high risk of severe illness and death if they were to contract COVID-19, according to the order. The suit asserts due process rights violations, unlawful detention under the federal habeas statute, Fifth Amendment violations and claims under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
But in response, the federal defendants argued that the wardens are the "immediate custodians" of the detainees under the U.S. Supreme Court's Rumsfeld v. Padilla decision in 2004 and therefore the case must be dismissed.
The detainees fired back, arguing in a reply brief that the wardens don't have the authority to release or transfer them, and that this case is an exception to the Padilla precedent.
But in his ruling Monday, Judge Guidry sided with the federal defendants, noting that the Fifth Circuit hasn't clarified whether this scenario could be considered an exception to Padilla. The judge also said the detainees suggest that district courts are the only venues that provide them with relief, but he said case law suggests otherwise.
Judge Guidry added that it would be an overreach of his authority to exercise jurisdiction over the case, which involves detainees being held in multiple jurisdictions.
"This court believes that such an exercise of habeas jurisdiction is precisely the type of overreaching the Supreme Court in Padilla sought to preclude: the 'possibility that every judge anywhere (could) issue the Great Writ on behalf of applicants far distantly removed from the courts whereon they sat,'" the judge wrote.
The decision is the latest in a recent spate of lawsuits asking the courts to release medically vulnerable immigrants detained by ICE. On Sunday, a Maryland federal judge also refused to release two asylum-seekers in the state who have children in the U.S. and prior convictions.
In that case, the judge found that the detention centers had implemented measures that minimize their risks, and noted that there is no evidence that the coronavirus is present in the facilities at issue.
Matthew Vogel of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, who represents the detainees in the Louisiana case, said Monday Judge Guidry's decision turns on a "technical question" of habeas jurisdiction, and it doesn't dispute the danger detainees face in crowded, unsanitary ICE facilities.
"We will continue to fight to get our plaintiffs and other people out of needless and life-threatening detention," Vogel said.
Representatives for the government declined to comment Monday.
The detainees are represented by Matthew Vogel of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild and William Patrick Quigley of Loyola New Orleans College of Law.
The government is represented by Peter M. Mansfield of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The case is Tatalu Hele Dada et al. v. Dianne Witte et al., case number 2:20-cv-01093, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
--Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.
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