Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced on Tuesday that it released 250 immigrants with criminal histories in response to a coronavirus-related order issued by the Central District of California.
The news came a week after U.S. Judge Terry Hatter demanded the agency either release or deport detainees at the Adelanto ICE processing center in Southern California in order to halt the spread of coronavirus infections.
ICE claims that "despite requests to transfer detainees to alternative locations," it ended up releasing 250 from the facility, which is run by a federal contractor. Those released had histories of a variety of crimes, including assualt with a deadly weapon, driving under the influence, "lewd/lascivious acts with a child," child cruelty, illegal re-entry after removal, and other offenses.
ICE’s Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director Tony H. Pham slammed the order as a danger to public safety and accused the court of overstepping its authority.
“While opponents who continuously seek to discredit the agency might otherwise mislead the public to believe that those in detention pose no risk to public safety, nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “ICE has complied with this overreaching court order; however, the public should know that the ruling undoubtedly places them at greater risk.”
Tuesday's news touched on a broader trend in which U.S. prisons released inmates to prevent infections. According to the Los Angeles Times, the state has already expedited the release of thousands of prisoners, including a woman convicted of murder. And in New York City, at least dozens of released criminals went on to commit new crimes, with at least 50 landing themselves back in jail, according to the New York Post.
According to ICE, more than 85% of the roughly 730 migrants at Adelanto had pending criminal charges or convictions. The recent release left the processing center with a population of 465, slightly below the 475 previously requested by Hatter. At least 162 had tested positive for the virus, according to Business Insider.
ICE maintains that it follows "an aggressive inspections program for its detention centers" and followed Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for containing the virus. More specifically, it restricted intake at Adelanto and conducted ongoing testing at the facility.
"As an added precautionary measure for communities," ICE's press release read, "no detainee was released until officials established a high degree of certainty that they did not pose a COVID-19 public health risk."
Government attorneys had argued in favor of keeping as many as 1,052 immigrants in the facility, citing World Health Organization (WHO) guidance that detainees should social distance with 39 inches between them, which is half the amount recommended by the CDC. But noting the administration's withdrawal from the WHO, Hatter said: "The government's reliance on the WHO, therefore, is disingenuous."
Hatter also argued that the "case involves human lives whose reasonable safety is entitled to be enforced and protected by the court pursuant to the United States Constitution."
The Trump administration has long butted heads with California over its immigration policies, suing the entire state in 2018 over its sanctuary law. In February, ICE reported that 411 inmates that were previously released had been rearrested and booked into Orange County Jail on additional charges, which included domestic violence, identity theft, and driving under the influence.