ACLU asks judge to force ICE to release illegal immigrants. Judge: Absolutely not.


Seattle, Washington – A U.S. District Court Judge brushed off a lawsuit from three civil rights groups that claimed that housing illegal immigrants in detention centers during the COVID-19 outbreak was cruel and unusual punishment.

Someone needs to give this judge an award for common-sense decision of the year.

On March 19th, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart wasn’t convinced by the plaintiffs that alleged allowing those susceptible of contracting COVID-19, and having complications, to remain in detention centers puts them at greater risk of suffering harm at the hands of the government. 

The usual suspects were the ones behind this lawsuit.

It was the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

They’d argued that ICE was actively putting those vulnerable to COVID-19 lives in danger.

Like an overpriced, used Toyota Tacoma, Judge Robart wasn’t sold.

In his ruling against the plaintiffs, he stated:

“There is no evidence that anyone at NWDC has COVID-19, and plaintiffs do not address the measures defendants are taking to prevent such a spread from occurring.”

That makes perfect sense.

The plaintiffs likely have no clue as to what ICE detention centers have already employed to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Nor did they consider what other contingency plans they may have up the procedural sleeve.

Eunice Cho, an attorney for the immigrants named in the case, thinks that them being concerned about something that might happen correlates to ICE intentionally trying to inflict harm upon their clients:

“Public health officials are in agreement — it is not a matter of if there is a COVID-19 outbreak in immigrant detention centers, but when.

ICE should heed their warning. By refusing to immediately release our clients, ICE is jeopardizing their lives and the lives of its staff and their families.”

Well, technically it’s not ICE “jeopardizing” anyone’s lives. That would be, in the event of an outbreak in a detention center, COVID-19 posing the risk.

It’s not as though ICE is finding someone who tests positive for the virus, and then forcing those at risk of COVID-19 complications to share a can of soda with them.

The complaint alleged that since there can’t be practice of social distancing, or access to disinfectants, then that is what ties this into a violation of the Fifth Amendment.

For attorneys, they sure don’t know how the Fifth Amendment works. 

Keeping someone at risk of catching an illness inside a facility that they landed themselves into isn’t cruel and unusual punishment.

If that were the case (which it isn’t), detention centers would be at the mercy of this kind of frivolity every time the flu season hits.

Apparently Judge Robart and myself see the situation from the same perspective.

He noted that the plaintiffs didn’t show how exactly the government was trying to cruelly punish those susceptible to COVID-19 by simply keeping them locked up.

He specifically pointed out that infection by the virus was only a possibility, but not a likely or guaranteed outcome by way of simple incarceration.

It’s obvious this judge was pondering the potential Pandora’s Box that would be opened had he succumbed to this request of a forced release of detainees by there simply being a communicable virus.

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All it takes is there to be one citable decision as such for it to be applied in ongoing case law for not only immigration cases, but state and federal cases involving inmates who could be deemed at-risk for illness.

Outside of the courtroom, ICE personally responded to the filing by the three plaintiffs, but that response is not publicly available at this time.

Now, while ICE appears to not be releasing people due to the possibility of them getting COVID-19, they are dialing back operations a bit. 

With police forces throughout the country taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it was only a matter of time before we saw federal law enforcement fall in line.

Law Enforcement Today recently learned that ICE will be engaging in more selective enforcement procedures. However, the new measures aren’t as drastic as some police departments have enacted in recent weeks.

According to the statement released by ICE, the adjustment in their Enforcement and Removal Operations, commonly abbreviated as ERO, took effect on March 18th.

This temporary shift in enforcement is going to focus solely on criminal illegal immigrants that pose a verifiable public safety risk:

“(ERO) will focus enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds. For those individuals who do not fall into those categories, ERO will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.”

What this means is that those only suspected of being in the country illegally, and nothing more, will likely not have attention directed toward them by the agency.

ICE did make sure to note that this will not deter Homeland Security Investigations from looking into suspected crimes which may be committed by illegal immigrants with no prior criminal history.

The cited investigations that will carry on were detailed as follows:

“Examples include investigations into child exploitation, gangs, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, human smuggling, and continued participation on the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

The announcement from the agency did not detail when ERO operations will revert back to their normal cadence.

Considering that there isn’t much insight as to when the COVID-19 pandemic will be under control, any indicated date of reversion would be hard to guarantee at this point.

Another portion of the agency’s release reiterated their already existing policy around ERO in deemed “sensitive locations”:

“ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.”

That portion of the statement was likely due to rallying cries asking the agency to not carry out operations near healthcare facilities and testing sites for COVID-19.

However, those exclamations weren’t really needed since the agency has held a “sensitive locations” policy for quite some time now.

Overall, considering the circumstances the country is facing with the pandemic, this isn’t too outrageous of a shift in procedure.


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