Federal judge accuses Trump administration lawyers of 'straight up dishonesty' in case over COVID-19 outbreak among detained immigrants

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Over 20% of immigrants detained at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, California, have contracted COVID-19. Richard Vogel/AP Photo
  • A federal judge on Thursday said he was concerned that Trump administration lawyers had been "dishonest or, at best, disingenuous" in a case involving a COVID-19 outbreak at an ICE detention center.

  • US Judge Terry Hatter said he had "been concerned for some time with the lack of candor exhibited by the government," noting it had failed to comply with an order to provide updates regarding the Adelanto ICE Processing Center.

  • At least 162 currently detained at Adelanto have COVID-19, or 20% of the jail population.

  • Hatter ordered the the US government to reduce the Adelanto population from 772 detainees to 475.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A US federal court harshly rebuked Trump administration lawyers on Thursday, accusing them of "straight up dishonesty" in a blistering opinion that orders the US government to release — or deport — hundreds of detained immigrants to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The ruling concerns the Adelanto Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center in Southern California, run by the private prison company GEO Group, where at least 162 detained immigrants have tested positive for COVID-19. That's more than 20 percent of the facility's current population, making it the worst outbreak at any ICE detention center.

Saying it had "been concerned for some time with the lack of candor exhibited by the government," the US District Court for the Central District of California issued an Oct. 15 order requiring ICE to reduce the Adelanto population by 50 people a day, starting next week, until it is reduced from 772 detainees to 475.

In its order, the court said it is rare that a judge will be "presented with direct evidence of dishonesty." In this case, however, "the government provided the court with a blaring example" of it.

Screenshot_2020 10 15 ord dct_ 686_adelanto_population_reduction_order pdf

The particular instance of "dishonesty" involved a relatively technical matter: a trial attorney for the Office of Immigration Litigation falsely asserting that the court had limited a particular submission to four pages.

But that was "the straw that broke the court's back," the ruling states, causing the judge to reassess "facts and arguments that it previously perceived to be merely inaccurate or ambiguous." Judge Terry Hatter, an 87-year-old appointee of former President Jimmy Carter, was now concerned that the government had, actually, been "dishonest or, at best, disingenuous" in a case that "involves human lives whose reasonable safety is entitled to be enforced and protected by the court pursuant to the United States Constitution."

The government had also failed to comply with an order to provide daily updates on the number of immigrants detained and infected at the Adelanto facility in San Bernardino County.

The US Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Jessica Bansal, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California, said Thursday's order spoke to the US government's utter failure to protect those in its custody.

"Eight months into the pandemic, over 700 people remain imprisoned for civil immigration violations in an over-crowded jail where basic protective measures are impossible and dozens fall ill with COVID-19 each day," Bansal said.

Despite the current outbreak, government attorneys had fought to keep as many as 1,052 immigrants at the facility, arguing that detainees only needed to maintain 39 inches of social distancing or half of the six feet currently recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control. Attorneys, in part, cited guidance from the World Health Organization.

Judge Hatter responded by noting that the Trump administration has withdrawn from WHO, arguing it is "not a credible organization."

"The government's reliance on the WHO, therefore, is disingenuous," Hatter wrote.

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