Federal judge orders release of 2 immigrants from Adelanto detention facility over COVID-19 risks

A federal judge Friday ordered the release of two immigrants from a detention center in San Bernardino County where he said conditions have put them at risk of contracting coronavirus.

In an emergency temporary restraining order, Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr. wrote that Pedro Bravo Castillo and Luis Vasquez Rueda should be freed “forthwith and without delay.”

“This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history, filled with uncertainty, fear, and anxiety,” Hatter wrote. “But in the time of a crisis, our response to those at particularly high risk must be with compassion and not apathy.”

“The Government cannot act with a callous disregard for the safety of our fellow human beings,” he wrote.

Both residents of Los Angeles County, Castillo and Rueda were detained by Immigration Customs and Enforcement on March 16 and 17, respectively, according to court filings. At the time, widespread restrictions over COVID-19 were already in place across California, from shuttered businesses to the closures of schools serving millions.

On Wednesday, the men filed a complaint alleging the federal government violated their rights to due process by subjecting them to risks of contracting coronavirus, which has infected more than 100,000 nationwide.

ICE did not immediately respond to calls and an emailed request for comment.

“The public has a critical interest in preventing the further spread of the coronavirus,” Hatter wrote, indicating an outbreak at the Adelanto facility would “endanger all of us.”

Amid the ongoing pandemic, dozens of advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union have called for the release of migrants at detention facilities and inmates in crowded jails. In Los Angeles County, the sheriff has said at least 1,700 inmates have been released over virus concerns.

The complaint filed in federal court indicates 58-year-old Castillo has had kidney stones, a hernia and other chronic health issues, and it describes ICE officers holding him “in several enclosed spaces — a car, a van, small rooms.”

Rueda, 23, entered the U.S. illegally when he was 5 years old and attended college as a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, according to court filings.

“During his arrest and transport, officers touched him and breathed on him without using masks and confined him in a crowded van with seven other arrestees for an hour and a half,” the complaint states.

At the Adelanto facility, Rueda was was placed in a dormitory already under quarantine, court filings state. When he was arrested, he had a work injury that “left him with bruises and bleeding in his eye, which may require surgery,” according to the complaint.

But he has been unable to get medical care at the detention center, which a federal watchdog report once blasted for poor living conditions such as inadequate medical care, nooses found in cells and detainees placed in “handcuffs and shackles” when they shouldn’t be.

Castillo, 58, and Rueda, 23, both have past DUI convictions for which they have served brief jail sentences.

Hatter rejected the federal government’s argument that they be kept in custody since no there are no confirmed cases at the Adelanto facility, noting the virus’ highly contagious nature and the possibility of asymptomatic carriers.

“They are not kept at least 6 feet apart from others at all times,” the judge wrote. “They have been put into a situation where they are forced to touch surfaces touched by other detainees, such as with common sinks, toilets and showers.”

Social visits have been discontinued due to risks of spreading COVID-19. A staff member at the facility said visiting hours are currently open only to attorneys.

While Castillo was detained, he expressed concerns about getting infected, according to a statement from the law firm that represented him and Rueda.

“I am afraid for my health. I worry that if we were to get sick in here, they still would not let us out and we would have to stay in here alone and sick,” Castillo said, according to the firm’s statement.