Immigration and Customs Enforcement must test detainees for COVID-19 before they are transferred to the immigrant detention center in Tacoma, a federal judge ordered Monday.

The ruling by Judge James Robart grants, in part, a temporary restraining order requested by lawyers representing vulnerable detainees in a class-action suit.

ICE is also ordered to take “all reasonable” measures to prevent cross-exposure at the Northwest ICE Processing Center to ensure that detained persons testing negative are not exposed to those who test positive.

“It’s a really big deal because it provides a key safety mechanism that’s been lacking so far,” said Aaron Korthuis, a staff attorney at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which represented plaintiffs in the suit alongside ACLU.

As ICE flies detained migrants to Washington and COVID cases surge at detention center in Tacoma, a judge wrestles with what to do

Identifying who is has COVID-19 while employing the proper measures will help reduce virus transmission, Korthuis said.


Before the order, there was a reliance on “verbal screenings” which do not work, he said, considering the number of positive cases and detainees reporting symptoms upon arrival.

The number of COVID-19 cases at the facility has climbed to more than 240 since June, includes cases among employees and general population.

Lawyers are still in the process of mediating for additional safety measures at the site, Korthuis said.

ICE has flown over 1,000 detainees to Washington state since April, some of whom appeared to have contracted COVID-19 while being transferred to the Tacoma detention center, according to Eunice Cho, an attorney with ACLU’s National Prison Project.

“ICE’s indifference to the health and safety of people in detention is unconscionable. We are grateful for the court’s order, but it’s mind-boggling that it took court action to make ICE take even the most basic measures,” Cho said in a statement Monday.

“This only underscores the inherent inhumanity of our immigration detention system.”