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Judge rules all detainees must be tested before flying to ICE facility in Tacoma

northwest detention.jpg
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma in April 2020.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, must test detainees for COVID-19 before they are transferred from the southern border to the detention center in Tacoma, a federal judge ruled this week.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought forward by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties of Washington meant to protect medically vulnerable detainees.

Since early June, more than 240 people have tested positive for COVID-19 at the detention center, including guards and medical workers. ICE and GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the detention center, have had to transport several detainees to the hospital.

The court order notes that almost every ICE flight since June has carried passengers who later tested positive for the virus. Attorneys for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties of Washington argued ICE had been failing to meet safety guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“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,” Eunice Cho, an attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project, said in a press statement.

“This only underscores the inherent inhumanity of our immigration detention system.”

However, Maru Mora Villalpando, an activist with the group La Resistencia, added that she’s still not certain detainees will be kept safe.

“This is not the solution to ending the COVID outbreak,” Mora Villalpando said. “The only solution is for the judge to order ICE to release all people vulnerable to COVID and all those who have tested positive.”

Mora Villalpando said a congressional delegation should intervene and stop all detentions and transfers. ICE declined to comment on the court ruling.

Lilly Ana Fowler reports on social justice issues for KNKX. She previously worked for the nonprofit news site Crosscut — a partner of KCTS 9, Seattle’s PBS station.
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