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Federal judge orders ICE to test all staff at Mesa Verde facility for COVID-19, provide rapid testing of detainees

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SAN FRANCISCO (KGET) — Late Friday, a federal judge ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to test all staff at the Mesa Verde facility in Bakersfield for COVID-19 after recently ordering ICE to begin testing all detainees.

In his emergency oral order, Federal District Court Judge Vince Chhabria directed ICE to immediately test around 140 staff members at the facility immediately, beginning with their next shift and on a weekly basis thereafter.

“I’m ordering that it be done immediately and nobody stop working until they’re completed,” he said. “There’s no question that this outbreak could have been avoided.”

The order came after an emergency status report was requested of the court on Friday as part of a class-action lawsuit filed in April on behalf of detainees at the Mesa Verde facility and the Yuba County Jail demanding release due to unsafe conditions amid COVID-19.

The detainees are being represented by several legal organizations, including the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of Northern California and Southern California.

Last week, Judge Chhabria ruled that all detainees at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility immediately begin receiving weekly COVID-19 tests after documents provided as part of the suit showed that ICE and GEO Group, which manages the facility, were not providing universal testing for detainees and staff. 

On Friday, however, Chhabria also ordered that rapid tests be used on detainees to give near-immediate results, as tests being conducted after last week’s ruling were taking days to provide results, potentially putting detainees at risk of contracting the virus. 

As of Saturday, the ACLU said at least 54 of the 104 detained people at the facility have tested positive for the virus. 

“The situation for those at Mesa Verde is dire. There is no other way to say this: we are in crisis,” said Emi MacLean, a deputy public defender at the San Francisco Office of the Public Defender. “And ICE is clearly unwilling or unable to do what needs to be done to protect people in its custody from the threat of a deadly pandemic.”

ICE said it does not comment on pending litigation. 

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