Federal judge orders immediate release of 22 ICE detainees in Pennsylvania

A federal judge ordered the immediate release of 22 people who were being held in civil detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at county jails in Pennsylvania while they await final decisions of their immigration cases.

The 22 people held in prisons in York County and Pike County each suffer from chronic medical conditions and face “an imminent risk of death or serious injury if exposed to COVID-19,” Judge John E. Jones wrote in Tuesday’s decision.


Their release is effective for two weeks.

In a separate decision in recent days, Jones also ordered the release of 13 others held in the prisons in which he wrote that, “in times such as these, we must acknowledge that the status quo of a mere few weeks ago no longer applies.”


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In Tuesday’s decision, Jones wrote that there is “clear evidence that the protective measures in place in the York and Pike County prisons are not working.”

“We can only expect the number of positive COVID-19 cases to increase in the coming days and weeks, and we cannot leave the most fragile among us to face that growing danger unprotected,” Jones wrote.

The released detainees must self-quarantine for two weeks, Jones wrote. He gave ICE one week to argue why the detainees’ release should not last longer than two weeks.

The U.S. holds around 37,000 people in immigration detention. Detainees and advocates say many are vulnerable because of age and pre-existing medical conditions, and because they are often held in open rooms, beds 3-feet apart, and without adequate supplies of masks or other protections.

In addition to Pennsylvania, immigrant advocates have filed lawsuits in California, Maryland and elsewhere.


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The Associated Press contributed to this report.