A Miami federal judge has set a trial date in January for a case involving U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and immigrants held at three South Florida detention centers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In court documents filed late Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Marcia G. Cooke set trial for Jan. 19, 2021, and said evidence gathering will begin later this month and end in August. The filings are part of an ongoing lawsuit that was launched on April 13, seeking the release of about 1,200 ICE detainees at three facilities— the Krome Processing Center in Miami-Dade, the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach and the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven.
During the two months of litigation, hearings have been held virtually via Zoom. However the trial is expected to be held at the actual courthouse in downtown Miami, Cooke said.
Lawyers for the detainees say some of those who test positive for COVID-19 are being mixed with those who have not been tested, that there’s a shortage of masks and inconsistent usage of them, that there’s no social distancing, that there are inadequate soap and hand sanitizer supplies and that there’s a lack of coronavirus education — all violations of Cooke’s June 6 order.
In response, ICE told Cooke that the agency is “aware” of the claims.
During the case’s most recent hearing on June 25, Cooke told ICE that she is considering having the three centers inspected by a court-appointed “fact-finder,” after detainees gave live, scathing testimonies about the deteriorating conditions behind bars as COVID-19 rapidly spreads. She said she wanted to find out if her previous court orders — which were designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — have actually been followed.
During the hearing, the six national immigration law firms representing the ICE detainees in the case — the University of Miami’s immigration law clinic, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Rapid Defense Network in New York, Americans for Immigrant Justice, the Legal Aid Service of Broward County, and Washington, D.C.-based law firm King & Spalding — asked Cooke if she would consider issuing an order “making clear that attempts to retaliate for participating in this case will not be tolerated by the court.”
The request was made after detainees complained that they were retaliated against by guards for speaking to the Miami Herald and giving statements to attorneys on the case. Cooke has yet to make a final decision.
Cases of detainees with the coronavirus continue to skyrocket at detention centers nationwide. As of late Wednesday night, ICE data shows the Glades County Detention Center has become one of the top eight detention centers in the country In the number of COVID-19 cases, with at least 112. Two days before the tally was at 78.
Krome’s tally is currently at 37, Broward’s center at 26.
The surge of positive cases among detainees who are tested for the virus in ICE detention are reflective of Florida’s rising trajectory of positive COVID-19 cases. On Thursday, the Florida Department of Health confirmed 10,109 additional cases of COVID-19, breaking another single-day record and pushing the state’s total confirmed cases to 169,106.