Immigration and Customs Enforcement has failed to implement proper social distancing protocols at three Miami detention facilities and must now evaluate whether more than 30 detainees are eligible for home release, a federal judge in Florida said.
The risk of contracting Covid-19 is higher for older persons and those with underlying respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Those underlying medical problems also increase the risk of succumbing to the illness. The detainees claim to fit these risk groups and asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order that would force ICE to release them.
ICE’s failure to ensure that the detainees are able to social distance or to provide them with protective items amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment because they are exemplary of deliberate indifference,” Judge Marcia G. Cooke said for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. It found that the high-risk situation and ICE’s inaction violated the detainee’s Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights.
The proposed class of plaintiffs are in custody because of alleged civil immigration violations, not crimes. But “the minimum standard of care to be provided to civil detainees under the due process clause is the same as that allowed by the Eighth Amendment for convicted persons,” the court said.
There are at least 9,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among U.S. prisoners, according to the court’s opinion. Attorney General William Barr directed federal prison facilities to begin transferring eligible inmates to home confinement in late March.
The bunk beds in one Miami facility “are a paltry 12 inches apart,” the court said. The chairs and benches where the detainees eat are spaced just three feet apart, contrary to the Centers for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines, it said.
ICE argued that the guidelines are flexible, but the court said some—like pre-intake screening, quarantining symptomatic individuals, and allowing sufficient hygiene supplies—are mandatory. The record showed that ICE hadn’t provided adequate soap or cleaning supplies to detainees, it said.
The agency has one week to evaluate each of the 34 named detainees and report to the court whether they may be released, the court said. Within three days, ICE must inform the court how it will accelerate an alternative detention plan so that the Miami-based facilities get to 75% capacity.
Going forward, ICE must also file with the court regular reports with information like which detainees had been released, from which facility, and how many detainees those facilities are housing. The court also ordered ICE to immediately begin dispensing more soap, water, and cleaning materials.
With more than 30,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Florida alone, “time is of the essence,” the court said.
The detainees are represented by King & Spalding LLP, Prada Urizar PLLC, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the University of Miami School of Law Immigration Clinic, Americans for Immigrant Justice, and the Rapid Defense Network.
The case is Gayle v. Meade, S.D. Fla., No. 20-cv-21553, 4/30/20.