CONCORD – United States Attorney Scott W. Murray announced that on July 1, 2020, Chief Judge Landya B. McCafferty of the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire declined to grant preliminary injunctive relief to “lower-risk” immigration detainees arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and held at the Strafford County House of Corrections (“SCHOC”).
ICE detains individuals who have criminal convictions or previously have been ordered to be removed from the United States. Under federal law, these individuals often are required to be detained pending the resolution of any legal claims challenging their removal from the United States.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a class action was filed on behalf of detainees in ICE custody at SCHOC. The lawsuit sought the release of ICE detainees from custody.
On May 4, 2020, the court ordered preliminary relief, including providing bail hearings for ICE detainees with high-risk medical conditions. As a result of these hearings, the Court released approximately ten high-risk inmates from custody. The Court also denied bail for approximately five high-risk inmates.
The Court conducted remote evidentiary hearings to determine whether detainees with lower medical risks also were entitled to relief. In a 22-page order, the Court declined to grant bail hearings to lower-risk detainees, finding that these detainees had failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on their claims that ICE or the Strafford County House of Corrections had been deliberately indifferent to their medical needs.
The Court’s order noted that authorities had taken multiple steps to address COVID-19 risks at the facility, including: drastically reducing visits from outsiders; screening of employees; providing masks to staff, inmates, and visitors; requiring a 14-day quarantine for new inmates, and halting transfers of ICE detainees from facilities with known infections. The facility limited “tier time” of inmates outside their cells, increased the amount of cleaning inside the facility, and increased inmate access to cleaning and hygiene supplies. ICE also reduced enforcement actions to diminish the number of detainees so that SCHOC was well below its maximum capacity. Because of these and other measures, the Court concluded that while conditions at SCHOC were not perfect, the petitioners failed to show that government officials “recklessly failed to act with reasonable care to mitigate the risk COVID-19 presents to lower-risk detainees at Strafford.”
The court will conduct further proceedings as the matter proceeds to a final conclusion on the merits.