Dozens of immigrant detainees in Minnesota asked a federal judge to release them to home monitoring this week, anticipating that a COVID-19 infection will soon reach the jail and quickly devastate its population.
Sixty-two ICE inmates, all housed in Sherburne County jail, signed the emergency wrongful-imprisonment petition expressing concerns of “constant danger” as staff are still coming and going freely from the facility.
“The jails are perfect incubators and transmitters because of overcrowding and substandard medical care and have the ingredients to easily fuel the pandemic,” the complaint states. “We are at heightened risk of contracting and rapidly transmitting the virus. Numerous prisoners have already died in European prisons and continue to die at an alarming rate.”
Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott declined to comment on the pending court case.
Through a contract with the federal government, ICE pays the jail $100 per bed each day to house immigrant detainees.
The plea for release adds to a foreboding from all areas of criminal justice that the nation’s prisons, jails and other detention centers are poised for catastrophe as the virus spreads. Dozens of prosecutors, including Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, have joined the ACLU and public defenders in calling for the release of nonviolent inmates in America. A Twin Cities nonprofit, Minnesota Freedom Fund, has bailed out 56 inmates from Hennepin County jail and six from ICE detention since the virus hit the United States and is trying to release more before infection reaches the jails.
Minnesota U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar also called for the release of more jail inmates and ICE detainees, and for increased medical staff in these facilities. “Incarcerated individuals deserve our humanity too,” Omar wrote on Twitter.
Jails in New York City and Chicago are already reporting positive diagnoses for inmates.
The petition from Sherburne County states that already backlogged immigration courts will be further delayed by the virus and asks the judge to release them with electronic-monitoring bracelets.
The detainees have home addresses and families, and many have lived in the country for decades and committed their alleged crimes “a long time ago,” according to the court filing.
“We are happy to provide address details to where we would be living and any guarantee from families to make sure that we meet release conditions, do not abscond and attend all future court hearings or report to ICE agents in case of deportation,” the filing read.
All the detainees are representing themselves in the legal proceeding. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel. No court dates are scheduled. The federal court system is operating at limited capacity, as U.S. Chief Judge John Tunheim has suspended many of its core functions to slow the spread of the pandemic.