LOS ANGELES—A Riverside-based federal judge’s order requiring the release of illegal immigrants from detention centers where COVID-19 risks were high was overturned Oct. 20 by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appellate panel ruled 2-1 that U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal overstepped when he granted a preliminary injunction in April 2020 to modify the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainment practices nationwide to reduce COVID-19 exposure risks.
Judge Daniel Bress, writing for the majority, said that Bernal’s order was misplaced, and there was no justification for making the agency appear to be engaged in “reckless disregard on a national basis.”
Bernal’s directive had been in response to petitions from illegal immigrants’ rights attorneys seeking to have their clients released from crowded federal detention facilities while their asylum applications were pending.
Immigrants’ rights groups argued that the detainees were being subjected to mistreatment by having them in locations where the spread of the contagion was greater.
ICE representatives stated at the time that the judge was basing his determination on speculation, and that permitting untold numbers of border crossers to walk away from custody would set a bad precedent with lasting repercussions.
Bress said the plaintiffs did not make a compelling case for an immediate overhaul of ICE procedures.
In her lone dissent, Judge Marsha Berzon countered that Bernal was urging ICE to adjust its policies while leaving the agency with ample latitude to decide how and when to grant releases.
It was unclear how many releases were permitted based on the injunction.
City News Service contributed to this report.