Attorney: Many ICE detainees at high risk from COVID-19

Attorney Frederick Goetz speaks to reporters.
Attorney Frederick Goetz speaks to reporters outside of Hennepin County District Court on October 25, 2018. Goetz said Tuesday more than five dozen ICE detainees held in Sherburne County jail are at high risk of severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19.
Tony Webster for MPR News

The attorney representing more than five dozen ICE detainees held in Sherburne County jail says many of the men are at high risk of severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19. And he’s asking a judge to release the men to home detention while they work through their immigration cases.

Attorney Fred Goetz said nearly half the men suffer from health problems, like heart conditions, high blood pressure and diabetes, that make them particularly vulnerable.

According to an affidavit filed Monday by a family member, one of the men began experiencing flu-like symptoms last Friday.

"The concern that this individual's case poses is that he's somebody with a constellation of symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19 and having that disease,” said Goetz, who was recently appointed to represent the men. “But he has not been tested."

Goetz said Sherburne County jail has not reported any cases of the virus.

In late March, 62 men filed a petition in federal court on their own behalf asking to be released from jail. They complained they are not being properly protected against the possible spread of the virus. Conditions in the jail, they said, don’t allow for proper social distancing or sanitation.

The Sherburne County Attorney's Office has not yet responded to a request for comment. However, a county spokesperson recently told the Sahan Journal that the jail is taking steps to keep residents and staff safe from the virus, including extra cleaning and quarantining all new inmates for two weeks.

Goetz said the men are undergoing civil immigration procedures and present no threat to the public. Many of them have lived in the United States for several years and have homes where they can stay, he said.

“These folks are not criminals,” said Goetz. “They’re civil detainees who are being held for immigration violations.”

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