Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday the agency was forced to release 250 illegal immigrants with criminal histories in California due to a COVID-19-related federal court order.
The agency made the announcement a week after Senior U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr., a Carter appointee, demanded in an Oct. 15 ruling that the agency release or deport migrants who were being detained at the Adelanto ICE processing center in Southern California so as to curb the spread of virus infections.
In a statement, the agency said that “despite requests to transfer detainees to alternative locations,” it was forced to release 250 migrants from the Adelanto facility, which is being operated by a federal contractor.
Detainees released included migrants who had criminal histories for a myriad of offenses including assault with a deadly weapon, “lewd/lascivious acts with a child,” driving under the influence, child cruelty, illegally reentering the country after being removed and other crimes.
The agency’s Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director Tony H. Pham ripped the court order for endangering the public welfare and safety while accusing Hatter of overstepping his 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,” said Pham. “ICE has complied with this overreaching court order; however, the public should know that the ruling undoubtedly places them at greater risk.”
The forced release is part of a wider trend of U.S. prison facilities releasing inmates ostensibly to prevent COVID-19 infections. The Los Angeles Times reported that California Democrats have sped up the release of thousands of inmates, including one woman who was convicted of murder.
In New York City, meanwhile, dozens of criminals released early went on to re-offend, with some 50 former prisoners winding up incarcerated again, the New York Post reported.
ICE said that about 85 percent of approximately 730 migrant detainees at Adelanto either had pending criminal charges or had already been convicted for prior criminal offenses.
The release of 250 detainees left the facility with 465 detainees, or a few less than Hatter demanded. Business Insider reported that at least 162 had tested positive for COVID-19, but
ICE officials said the agency follows “an aggressive inspections program for its detention centers” while following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines aimed at harnessing the virus. Also, the agency said it limited the number of detainees at Adelanto and was conducting frequent COVID-19 testing there.
“As an added precautionary measure for communities, no detainee was released until officials established a high degree of certainty that they did not pose a COVID-19 public health risk,” the ICE statement said.
In Hatter’s court, government lawyers argued in favor of keeping up to 1,052 migrants at the facility after citing World Health Organization recommendations that detainees should be kept 39 inches away from each other to limit viral spread — or half the distance the CDC advises.
However, Hatter, 87, criticized that, citing the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the WHO: “The government’s reliance on the WHO, therefore, is disingenuous.”
In his ruling, Hatter also said 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 a contentious history with Democrat-appointed federal judges in California over immigration policy. The administration sued California in 2018 over its ‘sanctuary’ law.
ICE reported in February that 411 detainees who had been released were rearrested and booked into the Orange County Jail for additional offenses including identity theft, domestic violence, and DUI, Fox News reported.