COVID-19 fears cited. One woman deported

At least 13 women who were detained at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield were released into the community on Thursday afternoon amid growing concerns about the threat of the coronavirus in federal immigration detention facilities.

Additionally, one woman from the facility was deported, according to Jordan Wells, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Just three women were left in the 100-bed female dormitory as of late Thursday afternoon, according to Juan Prieto, an organizer with the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. They had deportation orders scheduled for Friday.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not confirm the releases and declined to comment citing pending litigation.

The women were released just over a week after a federal judge ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to identify people for release from Mesa Verde and another detention facility — the Yuba County Jail in Marysville — to allow for social distancing in the facilities during the pandemic.

The order came as the result of a class-action lawsuit filed by a coalition of legal organizations, including the San Francisco Public Defender's Office and the ACLU Foundations of Northern California and Southern California, on behalf of ICE detainees at the two facilities. Mesa Verde is owned and operated by the GEO Group and the Yuba County Jail is owned and operated by the county and houses both county inmates and ICE detainees.

There were up to 50 women in the detention center when the coalition of legal organizations filed the class action several weeks ago, according to Wells with the ACLU.

While there are no reported cases of COVID-19 at either facility, there has also been minimal testing.

As of April 24, none of the 283 detainees at Mesa Verde had been tested for the virus and just two of the 144 immigrants at Yuba County had been tested, according to court filings. Nationwide, 753 of 1,528 detainees tested — or about 49% of those tested — were positive.

"We are happy for the class members that have been able to be released to their families through litigation," Wells said Thursday afternoon. But, he said, the detainees who remain inside are still in danger, as the facility is not providing widespread testing for COVID-19, and people can't practice social distancing.

"There is a lot of work to be done still," he said.