Federal judge orders coronavirus testing for immigrations detainees

May 8, 2020

A federal judge has ordered the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office to test immigrations detainees and staff members for the coronavirus, as reported by multiple news outlets.

“I require everyone be tested, from the sheriff on down,” Commonwealth Magazine quoted US District Court Judge William Young as saying in his decision. 

The order included around 600 staff members as well as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainees at the Faunce Corner Road facility. 

It comes after a violent disturbance on May 1 which saw three detainees hospitalized and $25,000 worth of damage done to the ICE facility due to a dispute over coronavirus testing.

“I absolutely disagree with Judge Young's decision,” Sheriff Hodgson wrote on Twitter on May 7, stating that the judge had “far exceeded his authority.”

In a written statement, he noted that the judge had expressed “his personal dislike of immigration policies” in the opinion, and that subjecting his 600 or so staff members to “invasive and unnecessary” testing violated their constitutional rights.

Hodgson has asked the Department of Justice for an emergency stay while the judge’s order is appealed to the First Circuit Court, he wrote.

Judge Young had previously ordered the sheriff to report the results of any virus testing, as well as ordering the release of more than 40 ICE detainees in April. The move followed a March lawsuit filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights on behalf of ICE detainees concerned about a Covid-19 outbreak amid allegedly unsafe conditions at the facility.

Eleven employees and one county jail inmate at the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office have tested positive for coronavirus. Several employees have already recovered and are back at work, while the inmate is currently isolated in the medical unit. 

Hodgson wrote in his statement that the judge’s and activists’ actions have “encouraged unrest” in the facility, accusing immigration activists of using coronavirus as a pretext to release all immigrant detainees.

According to Commonwealth Magazine, Young “expressed bewilderment” that detainees had not been tested before May 1, calling it “deliberate indifference.” He also reportedly ordered the sheriff’s office to trace possible contact between Covid-positive staff members and detainees.

Hodgson will be required to provide regular updates about testing and reports on contact tracing for those staff members who tested positive, the magazine reported. ICE will foot the bill for the tests.