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Judge orders two ICE detainees released from Calhoun County Jail

Inmates in Michigan's county jails could be housed in smaller cells under a bill passed by the Michigan house this week.
Inmates in Michigan's county jails could be housed in smaller cells under a bill passed by the Michigan house this week.

Two ICE detainees with medical conditions have been freed after a federal district judge ordered the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release them from the Calhoun County Jail.  

In her order releasing the two, U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy said, "COVID-19 does not respect prison walls. The raging global pandemic outside of Calhoun County Correctional Facility and a confirmed case within the facility pose a serious risk to those inside."

Levy says the two ICE detainees, Qaid Alhami, and Tomas Cardona Ramirez, both of whom have diabetes, face a "high risk of irreparable injury," from the coronavirus pandemic.

Alhalmi is a 54-year-old Yemeni citizen whose request for asylum was denied. He has been held in the Calhoun County Jail since September 17, 2019.

Tomas Cardona Ramirez is a 37-year-old citizen of Guatemala who was detained by ICE in January 2020 for being present in the U.S. without having legally been admitted.

Levy said two other individuals who seek release have other conditions such as asthma, and they must present further evidence that their conditions place them at serious risk from the spread of the coronavirus.  So far, one inmate at the jail has tested positive for COVID-19.

Levy agreed with an infectious disease expert who testified in the case, that "adequate social distancing remains impossible, access to sanitation and personal protective equipment is scarce, rules regarding the use of masks for staff are lax or nonexistent, and ICE and MDOC are testing neither asymptomatic detainees nor all detainees who present with symptoms," in the Calhoun County facility.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of Michigan, which is also seeking certification of a subclass of medically vulnerable individuals, all noncitizens who are detained in ICE custody in the Calhoun County Correctional Center, and who have one or more risk factors placing them at heightened risk of severe illness or death if exposed to COVID-19.

ACLU attorneys say they have recently obtained a list of detainees from ICE who may have medical conditions that place them at high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, and they will soon seek an order granting those individuals relief as well, in the form of release from confinement.

On Thursday, an ICE spokesman said the agency would not comment on the pending litigation.

But the agency says it is taking steps to protect those in its custody from contracting COVID-19.  On its website, ICE says 943 detainees have contracted COVID-19 as of April 25, along with 44 ICE employees at detention centers.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have been taking important steps to safeguard all detainees, staff and contractors, including: reducing the number of detainees in custody by placing individuals on alternatives to detention programs, suspending social visitation, incorporating social distancing practices with staggered meals and recreation times, and through the use of cohorting and isolation of new admissions into the detention network for 14 days before placing them into general population. Detainees are being monitored and tested for COVID-19 in line with CDC guidance, and in conjunction with the recommendations of state and local health partners.

The agency says it has released more than 900 medically vulnerable detainees from custody since the start of the pandemic.

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Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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