Federal Court Issues Show-Cause Order Regarding COVID-19

SEATTLE – On Thursday evening, Federal District Court Judge James Robart ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the GEO Group, which is contracted to operate the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), to demonstrate by next Tuesday why they cannot immediately begin to test for COVID-19 all NWDC detainees who provide consent. The suit, Castaneda Juarez v. Asher, filed by Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Washington, seeks the release of people in civil detention who are medically vulnerable and at risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

In his order, Judge Robart concluded that the petitioners presented “compelling arguments as to the inadequacy of social distancing, hygiene measures, and other steps in protecting vulnerable detainees at high risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19." The extent of infections in the facility, however, is currently unknown. To date, the facility has only tested 16 of more than a thousand individuals detained there since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matt Adams, legal director for NWIRP, issued the following statement:

“The Court’s order reinforces that ICE has a responsibility to ensure the reasonable safety of all these people who are subject to civil detention—their detention can not be used as a punishment. Especially for those who are medically vulnerable, they must be released before it is too late and people die, just as they have at other immigration detention centers.”

Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, issued the following statement:

“This order is an important step forward. We know, based on national ICE-reported data, that more than 50 percent of people who have been tested by ICE are positive for COVID-19. There are entire units in quarantine at NWDC right now. ICE must now ensure full testing of all detainees at NWDC who consent to and desire testing; they must do so without intimidation or threats of reprisal. Full testing at NWDC will likely reveal that the problem is much more serious than the agency has acknowledged. ICE has proven it cannot keep people in its custody safe from COVID-19 — or other medical issues, for that matter. It must release people in its custody during this pandemic before more lives are senselessly lost."

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