Federal Court Rules to Release Individuals at High Risk of Contracting COVID-19

By Murcel Rahimi

Harrisburg, PA.- The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that immigration officials must immediately release the ten individuals who sued for their release as well as those who remain in the detention facilities.

The lawsuit argues that the continued incarceration of the plaintiffs, who are at the highest risk of contracting the disease and getting seriously ill or dying because of advanced age or pre-existing medical conditions, dangerously exposes them to COVID-19 and violates their due process rights and their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

All of the individuals who filed the lawsuit were at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 due to their age, medical conditions, or both, the ACLU states.

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 country prisons.”

According to the Federal Judicial Center, Judge John E. Jones III has been serving as a U.S. District Judge since 2002.

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 ACLU said.

“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.

Federal Judge Jones III concluded the opinion by stating, “Should 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.”

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