U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has “lost the right to be trusted" that the agency will take safety measures at the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment, the newspaper said.
Mesa Verde is owned by a private ICE contractor and houses 121 men challenging or awaiting deportation proceedings.
At least nine detainees and 14 staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus, Bree Bernwanger of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights in San Francisco told the Chronicle.
Several judges have ordered the release of detainees who may be medically vulnerable to the virus from Mesa Verde and other facilities.
However, emails from ICE officials to the contractor, GEO Group, said the agency wanted to avoid universal testing because it didn’t have room to quarantine all those who might test positive, the Chronicle reported.
The judge said evidence shows that officials “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 issued a temporary restraining order requiring weekly tests of all detainees with methods that provide rapid results. The judge also banned new admissions to Mesa Verde and ordered ICE to set aside a dormitory for people who test positive for COVID-19.
An Aug. 21 hearing was scheduled for the judge to decide whether to extend the order.