In response to a class-action lawsuit filed by ACLU attorneys two weeks ago seeking urgent relief for immigration detainees at the Wyatt Detention Center facing the increasing spread of Covid-19 at the facility, a federal judge today ordered expedited bail hearings for the detainees.
According to the order issued by U.S. District Judge Mary McElroy, individual bail hearings will begin at 10 a.m. on Wednesday “and will continue on a weekday daily basis until all petitioners requesting a hearing have been given one.” Beginning today, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are required to file a list of ten detainees considered “a high priority for hearings,” and to file a similar list every day thereafter. The judge said she would schedule bail hearings for the listed individuals, and the defendants “must file an objection or agreement to release by the close of business of the day each name is identified,” and “shall, in good faith, consider whether they can agree to the release, on appropriate conditions, of any individual detainee.”
The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Rhode Island cooperating attorneys Deborah Gonzalez and Jared Goldstein, and lawyers from the firm Morgan Lewis. The suit was filed at a time when the number of detainees infected with COVID-19 had more than doubled in three days.
The suit alleges that the three named petitioners are, due to underlying medical conditions, at heightened risk of death or serious illness if infected with COVID-19. However, the ACLU has since learned of other medically vulnerable detainees there, and the class-action petition, supported by expert testimony, argues that all of the ICE detainees at Wyatt are at unreasonable risk of a serious, and potentially deadly, COVID-19 infection due to conditions at the facility, and therefore should be released or placed in “community-based alternatives to detention such as conditional release, with appropriate precautionary public health measures.” The petition argues that the detainees’ continued detention under conditions there violates their due process rights.
Before this lawsuit was filed, the ACLU separately filed a successful lawsuit that secured the release of three other medically vulnerable ICE detainees from Wyatt. At the time that suit was filed, no inmates had tested positive for the disease. The court’s action today mirrors those taken by some other courts across the country to address the health dangers posed to detainees during the pandemic.
ACLU of Rhode Island cooperating attorney Jared Goldstein said today: “With the outbreak of Covid at Wyatt, the court is beginning a process to assess whether releasing individual detainees is necessary to protect their lives and health. We expect that the court will prioritize detainees who are especially medically vulnerable to Covid. The court will also want to be sensitive to any valid concerns of community safety the government may raise.”
ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown added: “We are very pleased that the court has recognized the urgency of the situation at Wyatt. We are hopeful that additional detainees will soon be released to mitigate the potential harm they face from the conditions that exist at the facility.”