SEATTLE (AP) – Authorities confirmed on Friday the first positive test COVID-19 at the Northwest detention center in Tacoma, on a detainee who was being examined clinically on arrival at the immigration prison. The development came at a time when immigrant rights defenders were going to court again, in an attempt to free medically vulnerable detainees before any outbreak there.
In a lawsuit filed on Friday in the U.S. District Court, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union argued that it has become increasingly clear that there is no way to adequately protect people in custody of the coronavirus.
In a separate case on Friday, US Immigration and Customs said a detainee tested positive during a medical intake screening and would remain clinically segregated for two weeks. The agency said that, according to Pierce County Health Department, the detainee has recovered and is no longer infectious, but still has enough viral cells to test positive for the disease.
More than 750 immigration detainees at more than 40 detention centers across the country have tested positive for the disease, a number that activists say may be an under-account due to a lack of testing at some facilities. On Wednesday, ICE confirmed the first death of a detainee by COVID at the Otay Mesa detention center in California.
"I'm scared. This is going to happen here," Perla Martinez Acosta, 37, detained in the Tacoma detention center with a history of asthma, tuberculosis and other medical conditions, said in a telephone interview today. "I don't want to die here in this facility. , away from my family."
The lawsuit on Friday was initiated on behalf of four detainees appointed against ICE and the GEO Group, which manages the prison. It seeks collective action status that could trigger the release of about 100 people that ICE officials have identified as being at highest risk of illness or death from illness, said Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwestern Immigrant Rights Project .
Courts across the country have ordered that clinically vulnerable people be released from ICE custody, but efforts to release detainees from Tacoma's for-profit immigration prison have met with limited success. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a case on behalf of nine detainees; Although US District Judge James Robart refused the release order, saying there was no evidence of an outbreak at the detention center, ICE released four of the nine on its own.
In a separate federal case, judge Ricardo Martinez last week ordered the release of a detainee named Rafael Pimentel-Estrada, saying that as a civilian detective – and not a criminal – he had the right to be kept in "reasonable security" conditions .
ICE has taken steps to reduce the risk of an outbreak, including stopping visits and observing newly arrived detainees for two weeks before introducing them to the general population.
But Martinez noted that detainees are primarily responsible for doing their own sanitation work, with no evidence of professional cleanliness; that shared bathrooms, sinks and other areas make social detachment impossible; and – "most worrying" – that facility guards do not need to wear personal protective equipment that can help protect detainees and themselves.
The ICE acknowledged having only carried out seven COVID-19 tests at the detention center. Martinez Acosta said he recently sought a test after developing some symptoms, but the medical team refused to give one because the fever was not high enough.
The agency declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said it assessed detainees for medical risks and released more than 900 across the country, with possible additional releases.
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