Court Orders ICE to Test Detained Immigrants Prior to Transfer to the Northwest Detention Center to Protect Medically-Vulnerable Detainees

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
August 23, 2021 9:45 pm


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WASHINGTON—This afternoon, a federal district court in the Western District of Washington ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to test detained immigrants prior to their transport to the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington. The court also ordered ICE to use that information to ensure that detained persons testing negative who not be exposed to those testing positive, limiting the transmission of COVID-19. The decision came in a case on behalf of a class of medically vulnerable detained immigrants brought by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Washington.

The court’s decision concluded that ICE has violated the constitutional rights of medically vulnerable detained persons at NWDC, where an outbreak of COVID-19 has spread rapidly in recent months. Since early June, over 240 people have tested positive at the detention center, including nearly two dozen staff members. The outbreak has occurred only after ICE began to transfer detainees from the southern border to NWDC without first testing them, producing a dangerous situation. Without testing or cohorting, immigrants have been exposed to COVID-19 during these long, transcontinental flights. And once arriving at the detention center, they are often placed in cells with other detainees while awaiting days for COVID-19 testing results. By requiring ICE to test prior to transfer, detained immigrants face much less likelihood of being exposed to COVID-19 positive individuals, since ICE will now finally identify those individuals prior to transport.

“At this point in the pandemic, testing is a widespread tool that we all know and understand to be key to mitigating the spread of COVID-19,” said Aaron Korthuis, a staff attorney at NWIRP. “Today’s decision ensures that that this most basic of safety measures will be in place to help lower the risk that medically vulnerable immigrants are exposed to COVID-19. Detained immigrants face a particularly vulnerable situation where they are often unable to take measures to protect themselves. We hope that it signals to ICE the need to take more seriously this problem and the health of detained immigrants who are being transported to other places beyond the Northwest Detention Center.”

“ICE’s indifference to the health and safety of people in detention is unconscionable. We are grateful for the court’s order, but it’s mind-boggling that it took court action to make ICE take even the most basic measures, including COVID-testing before placing people on cross-country flights, to keep vulnerable immigrants safe,” said Eunice Cho, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project. “This only underscores the inherent inhumanity of our immigration detention system.”

The order can be found here.

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