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Border & Immigration

Judge Orders Review Of Otay Mesa Detainees For Eventual Release Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

A vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif., June 9, 2017.
Associated Press
A vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif., June 9, 2017.

A San Diego federal judge ordered Thursday that a group of up to 69 "medically vulnerable" detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center be screened for release amid a coronavirus outbreak at the facility.

The order from U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw came as part of a class- action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union's San Diego chapter against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CoreCivic, a private company which operates the Otay Mesa Detention Center.

As of Thursday, 162 detainees at the facility have tested positive for COVID-19.

The ACLU argues that overcrowded conditions at Otay Mesa have made social distancing an impossibility and puts detainees at serious risk of contracting the virus. The nonprofit is seeking a vast reduction in the inmate population — of both ICE and U.S. Marshals' detainees — but Thursday's hearing focused on a group of detainees considered at the highest risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

RELATED: Otay Mesa COVID-19 Outbreak Now The Largest At A US Immigration Detention Center

On Tuesday, attorneys for ICE and CoreCivic told Sabraw that eight detainees fall under the designation of medically vulnerable. But a supplemental brief filed the following day by Otay Mesa Detention Center Warden Christopher LaRose's attorneys states that additional information from ICE medical staff indicated there are 51 to 69 ICE detainees who may fall within CDC guidelines for being at higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19.

Sabraw said ICE will be allowed to consider detainees' criminal history, risk of flight and other factors, but the expectation should be that nearly all the detainees will be released.

A Monday noon follow-up hearing was scheduled and will include a report from ICE and CoreCivic detailing who has been released and what factors respondents relied on to prevent any detainees' release.