ICE Can't Move Detainees In Or Out Of Coronavirus Hot Spot

By Nadia Dreid
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Law360 (August 12, 2020, 10:40 PM EDT) -- Immigration officials are forbidden from transferring anyone in or out of its Farmville, Virginia, detention center, where more than 80% of the population has tested positive for the coronavirus, a federal judge has declared.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema handed down the order on Tuesday blocking the government from moving anyone else into the Farmville Detention Center for any reason and from transferring any of the plaintiffs out without their permission and that of their attorneys.

The preliminary injunction comes three weeks after four Farmville detainees filed suit claiming that COVID-19 was spreading "like wildfire throughout the facility," infecting more than 80% of the center's almost 400 detainees.

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data, the center has seen 339 diagnosed cases of the coronavirus. Of those, 259 people are still being isolated or monitored.

Three of those detainees are Christian Alberto Santos Garcia, Gerson Amilcar Perez Garcia and Ismael Castillo Gutierrez, who filed their suit in late July. A fourth plaintiff, Salvador Bolanos Hernandez, was suspected to have been infected, but was "still waiting for his test results weeks after he was tested," according to the complaint.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited the facility on Tuesday, and Judge Brinkema ordered that the detainees' expert be allowed to attend the CDC's debrief with the government slated for Friday.

That information will be used to decide whether Judge Brinkema will order the government to permit the expert to inspect the facility, she said.

Her decision comes less than a week after a 72-year-old Canadian citizen died at the facility weeks after testing positive for the coronavirus, according to the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 165,000 people in the United States alone, has flourished in the cramped quarters of prisons and detention centers, and immigration detention facilities have been no exception.

More than 4,400 detainees have tested positive for the virus, 1,083 of whom were under isolation or monitoring as of Tuesday, according to ICE data.

It has been a particularly deadly year for the agency, with more people dying in ICE custody than in any other year since 2006, according to government records. At least five of those people had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The detainees are represented by Joseph D. West, David Debold, Naima L. Farrell, Thomas J. McCormac IV, Blair Watler and Katherine King of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, Kristin Donovan and Granville Warner of Legal Aid Justice Center and Sirine Shebaya and Amber Qureshi of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

The government is represented by Yuri Fuchs of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The suit is Santos Garcia et al v. Wolf et al., case number 1:20-cv-00821, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

--Editing by Nicole Bleier.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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