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Federal court rules that ICE must release Pennsylvania 10 detainees who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19

The detainees, who were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, claimed to be a high risk due to their age, medical conditions, or both

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A federal court in Harrisburg Tuesday ruled that federal immigration authorities must immediately release 10 people currently in detention who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a press release.

The detainees sued for their release, citing their higher risk of contracting coronavirus due to their age, medical conditions, or both, the ACLU said.

In the order, federal Judge John E. Jones III said,“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 county prisons.”

“We are thrilled that the court agreed that our clients must be released immediately,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, one of several entities that represented the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit. “Our clients and their families bravely stood up to challenge the federal government and won.”

The lawsuit originally included 13 people in immigration detention, but ICE released three of them in recent days, according to the ACLU.

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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.

Judge Jones concluded the opinion by saying, “(S)hould 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.”