Rights groups sue ICE for detainee release over virus concerns

SEATTLE (AP) — Immigrant rights groups on Monday sued the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to force the release of detainees at its Washington state jail who are at high risk from the coronavirus.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Seattle by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Washington, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project on behalf of people detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many detainees at ICE’s 1,575-bed Northwest Tacoma facility might be considered high-risk. Health officials say among those particularly susceptible to COVID-19 are people older than 60, pregnant, or who have underlying conditions such as a weakened immune system or heart or lung disease. Those in detention are especially vulnerable to contagious outbreaks.

“These are not normal circumstances, and the heightened risk of serious harm to people in detention from COVID-19 is clear,” Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney at the ACUL’s National Prison Project, said in a statement.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

In a statement, ICE said it was paying close attention to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Consistent with federal partners, ICE is taking important steps to further safeguard those in our care.” the statement said. “As a precautionary measure, we are temporarily suspending social visitation in all detention facilities.”

The agency also said it was working with health officials to determine if detainees might need additional testing or monitoring.