Groups: Release ICE detainees held in Wash. jail at high risk for coronavirus

Immigrant rights groups said ICE should parole detainees who are over 60 or have underlying conditions

Gene Johnson
Associated Press

SEATTLE — Immigrant rights groups want U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release detainees at its Washington state jail who are at high risk from the coronavirus.

In a letter sent to ICE late Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and Columbia Legal Services said ICE should release on parole any detainees who are 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, they said.

Detainees inside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington.
Detainees inside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. (Photo/AP)

It wasn't immediately clear how many detainees at ICE's 1,575-bed Northwest detention center in Tacoma might be considered high-risk. A statement Tuesday from ICE provided no indication that the agency is considering releases unless ordered by a judge.

The Seattle area has the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., with at least two dozen deaths as of Tuesday — most linked to a suburban nursing home.

The GEO Group, a for-profit corporation that runs the detention facility, said Tuesday it has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the jail. The company declined to say how many detainees or staff had shown symptoms or been tested.

In an emailed statement, ICE similarly said it had no confirmed cases. The agency is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control in terms of when detainees and staff should be tested, and that as of March 3, four detainees had met that criteria. Staff are being provided protection equipment such as masks.

Those at high-risk can be kept together in units, the agency said: “The CDC advises self-monitoring at home for people in the community who meet epidemiologic risk criteria, and who do not have fever or symptoms of respiratory illness. In detention settings, cohorting serves as an alternative to self-monitoring at home.”

The agency said it is screening new detainees for COVID-19 and that its protocols call for medically isolating those who have mild symptoms, while those with moderate to severe symptoms or who need higher levels of care are transported to hospitals. Sixteen of the 20 detention centers run by the ICE Health Services Corps have airborne infection isolation rooms, it said.

"ICE is actively working with state and local health partners to determine if any detainee requires additional testing or monitoring to combat the spread of the virus,” ICE said.

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