The Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island has released 25 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees since a class-action lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Last month, the ACLU filed a federal class-action lawsuit asserting that it was not safe to keep detainees there amid the spread of COVID-19. U.S. District Court Judge Mary S. McElroy detailed the conditions of the Wyatt facility in a written order, stating that they “present a case for a substantial claim of constitutional error and present facts which may lead to conclude that their continued detention under these circumstances presents a substantial risk of serious harm or death.” As of Monday, 57 detainees and 17 staff members had tested positive for the virus, and the surrounding city of Central Falls is seeing large numbers of positive cases.
When the lawsuit began, the ACLU was seeking an “urgent” conditional release of 70 ICE detainees. McElroy, ACLU lawyers, and federal prosecutors ended up holding over 30 remote bail hearings for detainees whose release was not agreed upon by federal prosecutors and the ACLU. McElroy ordered 16 of the detainees released on bail. On Tuesday, ACLU attorneys announced that Wyatt agreed to release nine others.
The judge denied bail to some, concerned that their release would create a public safety risk or they may pose a flight risk. However, Wyatt may still see more releases. According to a lawyer representing the ACLU from the Morgan, Lewis & Bockius law firm, another bail hearing is set to be held on Friday.
Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, said, “We have managed to get more than two dozen detainees out of the facility and out of danger. The most striking figure is that this lawsuit was successful in getting more immigration detainees out of the facility than are currently locked up there now.” Although unable to release everyone, Jared Goldstein, who represented some of the detainees for the ACLU, is “hopeful that the reduced population may make social distancing more possible.”
In a separate lawsuit earlier this year, the ACLU also secured the release of three other detainees from Wyatt.
Sources: Providence Journal 6/24/20; The Boston Globe 6/23/20