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Federal judge orders ICE to provide COVID-19 testing to all detainees at California facility

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SAN FRANCISCO (KGET)  — A federal judge ruled today that all detainees at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Bakersfield receive weekly COVID-19 tests and that ICE establish an isolated dorm for those who test positive. 

Federal District Court Judge Vince Chhabria ordered that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement begin administering the tests starting next week. The facility must also continue not admitting any new intakes.

The order was part of a class-action lawsuit filed in April on behalf of more than 400 people who are detained at the Mesa Verde facility or the Yuba County Jail demanding release due to unsafe conditions amid COVID-19.

The detainees are being represented by several legal organizations, including the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of Northern California and Southern California.

ICE said it could not provide comment on pending litigation. 

“We reached this dire point because ICE failed to take measures to prepare for an outbreak, even when the signs showed one was imminent,” said Sean Riordan, senior staff attorney at ACLU of Northern California. “This order is a step towards a system that will protect the people detained at Mesa Verde.” 

 The order came after the plaintiffs provided e-mails between ICE and GEO Group, which manages Mesa Verde, that showed that they decided against a plan for universal testing “due to constraints that the…guidelines would put on our housing resources.” 

“The documentary evidence shows that the defendants have avoided widespread testing of staff and detainees at the facility, not for lack of tests, but for fear that positive test results would require them to implement safety measures that they apparently felt were not worth the trouble,” Chhabria said in the order. 

According to the ICE website, there are nine detainees who have tested positive for COVID-19 at Mesa Verde.

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