ACLU and NWIRP Statement on Court Refusal to Release People at High Risk of COVID-19

News Release: 
Thursday, March 19, 2020

SEATTLE — A federal district court ruled today that it will not immediately release immigrants detained at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, as requested in a lawsuit filed Monday against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The suit — filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Washington, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) — sought the release of people in civil detention who are at high risk for serious illness or death in the event of COVID-19 infection due to their age and / or underlying medical conditions. The court indicated that it would continue to consider the case, particularly as the situation related to COVID-19 rapidly evolves.

Public health experts have repeatedly warned that release of vulnerable people from custody is critical in light of the lack of a vaccine, treatment, or cure for COVID-19 — both for the health and safety of people in detention, as well as for the staff who work in these facilities and the communities they return home to every day. As the healthcare system in the Seattle-area is increasingly overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, this step is urgent to reducing the toll on its infrastructure.  

Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, issued the following statement:

“We will continue to fight for our clients, who face tremendous danger to their health while in detention. Public health officials are in agreement — it is not a matter of if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in immigrant detention centers, but when. ICE should heed their warning. By refusing to immediately release our clients, ICE is jeopardizing their lives and the lives of its staff and their families.”

Matt Adams, legal director for NWIRP, issued the following statement:

“We strongly disagree with ICE's assertion that the harm is not imminent simply because the agency has not yet publicly confirmed any cases of COVID 19 at the NWDC. We will continue pushing forward to challenge the detention of our vulnerable clients during this pandemic. I just hope our clients do not succumb to severe illness or death before we can procure their release.” 

The release is online, here:
The order denying the motion is online, here: