A judge has ordered bail hearings for the medically vulnerable immigrants being held by ICE at the Strafford County jail.
U.S. District Court Judge Landya McCafferty made the ruling late Friday afternoon at the end of a day-long hearing in a case brought by the ACLU and four prominent New Hampshire law firms over concerns about Covid-19.
The hearing focused on conditions and practices at the lockup, where Customs and Immigration Enforcement houses immigrants accused of violations of civil immigration law such as entering the country illegally or overstaying visas.
McCafferty made her ruling after praising Strafford County Corrections Superintendent Chris Brackett, describing him as the blue ribbon of superintendents and lauding his efforts to protect inmates from Covid-19.
But she said that the tight quarters make it impossible to maintain social distancing.
“Moving out the most vulnerable makes every other inmate safer. Obviously, that benefits Superintendent Brackett,” said McCafferty, the chief judge of the New Hampshire District. She noted that other federal courts in New York and California have issued similar orders.
Her ruling doesn’t immediately free any of the estimated 73 ICE detainees.
McCafferty said she will start bail hearings on Monday for the medically vulnerable inmates. She envisioned four a day. McCafferty plans to issue a written decision that covers other ICE detainees.
Reasons for denying bail include a history of violence or a medical record that does not back up an inmate’s claims, she has said.
During the a video-hearing on Friday, Brackett testified about efforts to screen incoming inmates, isolate sick inmates and keep the jail clean.
All jail employees now wear masks, after the jail received 60,000 last week, as well as 700 N-95 masks, he said.
However, he acknowledged the small size of most cells, 13 by 7 feet.
Three inmates testified about intermingling with other inmates and the difficulty at times of getting soap and shampoo. They also said they are mixed with inmates who are at the jail for violations of criminal law.
“There’s no way you’re going to get a six-foot distance, nobody listens,” Rommel Chavez said.