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'One Guy Gets Sick, Everybody Gets Sick': ICE Detainees Released Amid Coronavirus Fears

Courtesy of the Bristol County Sheriff's Office

The first wave of detainees with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been released from a Bristol county facility amid fears of a COVID-19 outbreak, according to the Bristol County Sheriff's Office.


A federal judge in Boston ordered the release of the detainees with no criminal charges or convictions on their records after a federal class action suit was filed on behalf of two plaintiffs represented by Lawyers for Civil Rights.


Julio Figueroa-Morales, a 45-year-old diabetic, was among the first to go after spending two weeks in quarantine, where his symptoms were monitored. 


A nurse at the facility who gave him an insulin injection later tested positive for COVID-19, he said.


Figueroa-Morales, who spent 45 days in the ICE facility in Bristol county, said his temperature was taken twice while he was quarantined and once just before his release. He wasn't tested, but says he feels well. 

In a phone call with WCAI after his release, Figueroa-Morales said he worried about his unit, where men sleep in bunk beds.


“One on top, one on the bottom. Not even 3 feet apart,” he said. “One guy gets sick down there, everybody gets sick.”

As of Tuesday, April 14, no detainees or inmates in Bristol County had tested positive for COVID-19. Six have been tested so far, said a spokesperson for the office. Four employees of the Bristol County Sheriff's Office have tested positive, according to a press release. 


Figueroa-Morales said many detainees in the facility were “scared” the virus would be brought in by correctional officers.


“[Correctional officers] would come and go, come and go,” he said. “And then we worry that one of [those] guys can get it and then get us sick.” 


Jonathan Darling, a public information officer with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, said precautionary procedures have been added to protect everyone in the facility.


“For example, all staff are screened when they come in,” he said. “Anybody who answers yes to some health questions or has a temperature over 100 has to go home and go see their doctor and be cleared by their physician before they can come back to work.”  


Darling accounted for 37 detainees being released as of Tuesday. When asked about higher numbers reported elsewhere, he said, "My list of 37 may not include ones that ICE voluntarily released, or ones that were ordered released and hadn’t been processed out yet.”


Darling said the office is encouraging people to practice good hygiene and has distributed face masks to all staff, inmates, and detainees. In addition, the office has launched a "Prisoner Alert Release System," to notify residents of any criminal charges or convictions against the released detainees. 

“The law-abiding people of Bristol County and beyond have a right to know who is being released back into their communities,” Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson wrote in an introduction to the project. It doesn't include the names of the released detainees, but features crimes like drug trafficking, larceny, and domestic violence.


Before his detention, Figueroa-Morales, who said he has a green card and moved to the United States from El Salvador when he was 11, worked as supervisor for asbestos removal and demolition. Since his release, he’s been staying at home with family.


“[I’m] happy I’m not down there no more because I’m eating better,” he said. “But I can’t sleep…. There’s too much stuff in my head that happened over there.”  

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.