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Judge: Bristol Sheriff And ICE Likely Violated Rights Of Detainees; Orders COVID-19 Testing

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) likely violated the constitutional rights of ICE detainees, according to a federal judge in Boston.

U.S. District Court Judge William Young found both the sheriff and ICE have deliberately disregarded the health of detainees in their care amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Young ordered immediate, widespread testing — at ICE's expense — of ICE detainees, as well as staff who may have come in contact with them.

The judge noted that he could not point to any testing administered before May 1 — the same day a violent altercation took place among detainees and county sheriff staff stemming from what appears to be the sheriff's first attempt to provide coronavirus testing since the onset of the crisis. Judge Young ordered the sheriff just a week earlier to provide regular reports of testing and results.

In a statement he tweeted Thursday evening, Hodgson said the judge “far exceeded his authority.” He also called the judge’s ruling mandating coronavirus testing for Bristol County Sheriff’s Office staff unconstitutional.

The sheriff and ICE are asking the Department of Justice for an emergency stay and plan to appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

There are 82 ICE detainees housed in Bristol County correctional facilities. There have been 50 ICE detainees released over the last few weeks as a result of the class action suit filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal is an attorney and executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, representing detainees in the class action suit. He says the testing is overdue given the conditions at the jail.

"These key measures are important steps in addressing the very real life-or-death threats experienced by immigrants at Sheriff Hodgson’s facility," he said.

As evidence, the court pointed to the sheriff's failure to conduct comprehensive testing or contact tracing of the seven staff who have tested positive, as well as a refusal to voluntarily consider release of any detainees.

The court order follows weeks of complaints from detainees about overcrowding and what they described as inhumane conditions. As part of his ruling, Judge Young also prohibited the transfer of any new ICE detainees into the facilities.

State and congressional legislators, as well as Mass. Attorney General Maura Healey, have called for independent investigations of the May 1 melee.

This article was originally published on May 07, 2020.

Related:

Shannon Dooling Twitter Reporter
Shannon Dooling is an immigration reporter at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.

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