A federal judge in Miami has ordered U.S. immigration authorities to begin releasing detainees held at three facilities in South Florida.
In an order issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke said crowded conditions exposing detainees to the coronavirus violate their constitutional rights, including protections from "cruel and unusual punishment."
About 1,200 people are being held in the three detention centers in conditions that Cooke said places them at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.
Recommendations filed with the court by a federal magistrate judge found that social distancing at one of the facilities, the Krome detention center near Miami, is "practically impossible" and that "conditions are becoming worse each day."
Social distancing is also not practiced at the other facilities, the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach and the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven.
The magistrate judge also found U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has failed to provide detainees at some of the facilities with masks, soap and cleaning supplies.
The case was filed on behalf of a group of detainees with chronic health conditions who say that they are at risk of contracting COVID-19 because of the crowded conditions.
In her order, Cooke said that the conditions violate detainees' constitutional rights. She ordered ICE officials to begin releasing detainees with a goal of reducing populations at the three detention centers to 75% of capacity within two weeks.
Cooke's order follows a decision by a federal judge in California last week that ordered ICE to take steps to create "minimum acceptable conditions" at its detention centers.
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal found that ICE had exposed detainees to "substantial risk of harm" by not addressing conditions in its crowded facilities. He ordered ICE to consider releasing all inmates over 55 and those who are pregnant or have underlying medical conditions.
ICE said recently it had released several hundred detainees from facilities after evaluating their "immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk, and national security concerns."