Even with more COVID-19 surges expected in the next few weeks, a top official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) argued in favor of repopulating a Bakersfield immigration detention facility in federal court last week, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times.
In August, a COVID-19 spread at the Mesa Verde facility led a U.S. District Court to issue a restraining order barring new detainees and limiting the population there from 400 to 50. The order also mandated that all inmates and staff be tested weekly. Attorneys for ICE argued that the order should no longer remain in place because they claim no new cases have been reported since the initial outbreak and that people who previously contracted the coronavirus have since recovered. However, court documents show that two staff members tested positive for the virus as early as last week.
ICE official Moises Becerra claimed that the Mesa Verde facility is in the process of combining dorms to make more room for people and said the goal is to always have beds available for new detainees. The facility also said they will offer tests to incoming detainees and place them in quarantine or isolation for two weeks. Still, U.S. District Court Judge Vince Chhabria questioned Becerra’s plan and appeared unconvinced of its effectiveness. Over the summer ICE misrepresented facts about how it was approaching COVID-19 protocols and, in emails disclosed later, declined to test detainees because of an assumption that it would be too hard to quarantine detainees who tested positive.
The public defender’s office of San Francisco and the ACLU are urging both the court and government officials to step in and keep this summer’s order in place. “We do not expect ICE to ensure compliance, therefore it is the responsibility of our state and local officials to address this humanitarian crisis,” Jackie Gonzalez, policy director at Immigrant Defense Advocates, told the LA Times.
ACLU attorney Monika Langarica stated in a Nov. 19 hearing that prisons and jails supply most ICE detainees in the state of California. However, she noted, these transfers are voluntary and present a danger to the community. “Without constant intervention from all angles possible, more people may die in ICE detention,” she said.