“The risk of petitioners being seriously and potentially fatally infected if they remain in immigration detention is irreparable harm justifying a TRO,” wrote Torres, a representative appointed by President Barack Obama.
In her order issued on Thursday evening, Torres also sharply criticized immigration and customs officials for inadequate preparation for the outbreak and lack of safeguards for the most vulnerable detainees.
“The respondents have shown and continue to show a deliberate indifference to the petitioners’ medical needs,” the judge wrote.
She noted that ICE claimed that inmates were being screened for the virus, isolated if they were suspected of being infected, and that facility cleaning had been intensified.
However, Torres described these measures as “obviously insufficient to protect the detainees in the present case” and noted that lawyers representing ICE could “not provide information on measures to protect high-risk prisoners”.
Around 40,000 immigrants are in ICE detention across the country. Immigration activists have called for the vast majority of them to be released in order to minimize the risk of contracting the virus.
While ICE has not officially announced a policy to consider immigration detainees due to the pandemic threats, Torres’ order indicated that a U.S. attorney attorney in Manhattan had said during a phone hearing Thursday earlier that five of the ten of the It was “expected” that the petition would be released on Thursday regardless of the judge’s order.
It was not immediately clear why these five should be released or whether a comprehensive screening of immigration detainees for virus-related health risks is underway.
ICE, U.S. Attorney General, and Department of Justice spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comments on Thursday night’s verdict.
At least two other courts – the U.S. District Court in Boston and San Francisco-based 9th Circuit – has ordered the release of individual immigration detainees for virus concerns in recent days. But last week, a federal judge in Seattle denied an application to release nine immigrants detained at a center in neighboring Tacoma.
Other cases in which the release of detained immigrants is required continue to work through the courts.