HARRISBURG - A federal court in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, ruled today that federal immigration authorities must immediately release the ten people who sued for their release and who remain in detention in three county facilities in the commonwealth.
All of the people who filed the lawsuit are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their age or medical conditions or both. In the order, federal Judge John E. Jones III noted,“At this point, it is not a matter of if COVID-19 will enter Pennsylvania prisons, but when it is finally detected therein. It is not unlikely that COVID-19 is already present in some county prisons.”
“We are thrilled that the court agreed that our clients must be released immediately,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which represented the plaintiffs, along with the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Immigrants Rights Project and the law firm Dechert LLP. “Our clients and their families bravely stood up to challenge the federal government and won.”
The lawsuit originally included 13 people in immigration detention, but ICE released three of them in recent days. The remaining ten plaintiffs have been detained in county facilities in York, Clinton, and Pike counties.
“The court determined that ICE cannot keep elderly and medically vulnerable people safe and, thus, must release them,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Judge Jones concluded the opinion by saying, “(S)hould we fail to afford relief to Petitioners we will be a party to an unconscionable and possibly barbaric result. Our Constitution and laws apply equally to the most vulnerable among us, particularly when matters of public health are at issue. This is true even for those who have lost a measure of their freedom. If we are to remain the civilized society we hold ourselves out to be, it would be heartless and inhumane not to recognize Petitioners’ plight.”
"As the number of confirmed cases of people in ICE detention who have tested positive for COVID-19 continues to climb, we are thrilled to see the court take this critical, life-saving step,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “It sends a strong message to ICE field offices around the country: Now is the moment to release people who are at risk for serious illness or death from COVID-19. We will continue to fight in the courts to ensure that they do."
The plaintiffs are represented by Witold Walczak, Vanessa Stine, Erika Nyborg-Burch, and Muneeba Talukder of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Eunice Cho, David Fathi, Omar Jadwat, and Michael Tan of the ACLU; and Will Sachse, Thomas Miller, Carla Graff, and Kelly Krellner of the law firm Dechert LLP. More information, including a copy of today’s order, is available at aclupa.org/Thakker.