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Citing virus, judge orders release of two men from California immigrant detention center

Pedro Bravo Castillo, shown at the Enforcement and Removal Operations processing center in downtown L.A., was one of two detainees ordered released.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

A federal judge Friday ordered the immediate release of two men held in the Adelanto detention center after their attorneys cited their severe risk of contracting coronavirus.

The two — Pedro Bravo Castillo and Luis Vasquez Rueda — are among a number of detainees who have been ordered released across the country since the pandemic broke out.

“They’ve been spared a potential death sentence,” said Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with Public Counsel, which — along with Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP — represented the two men. “Hopefully now ICE is going to do its part to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.”

The attorneys are asking that the men be given a coronavirus test and appropriate garb before they go into isolation at home.

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In his order, Senior U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter Jr. noted that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. had exceeded those in every other country. In San Bernardino County, where the detainees are being held, confirmed cases have “tripled over the past five days.”

An outbreak at Adelanto, he wrote, would further endanger everyone.

“This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history, filled with uncertainty, fear and anxiety,” the judge wrote in his order. “But in the time of a crisis, our response to those at particularly high risk must be with compassion and not apathy. The government cannot act with a callous disregard for the safety of our fellow human beings.”

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in L.A. confirmed that the judge’s order had been received and transmitted to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE did not respond to a request for comment.

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In a court filing, the government argued that concern about the men contracting COVID-19 at Adelanto if not released was “based on mere speculation.”

“Petitioners have provided no evidence that ICE has failed to take proper precautions against COVID-19 or that there have been any cases of COVID-19 in Adelanto,” the government wrote.

In his order, Hatter cited a 2018 report that found health and safety risks at Adelanto.

Predating the pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found 14,000 health and safety “deficiencies” at contracted detention facilities between October 2015 and June 2018. At least 10 migrants have died in ICE custody this fiscal year.

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In a supplemental declaration, Dr. Ranit Mishori, a senior medical adviser with Physicians for Human Rights, stated that the conditions in which Bravo Castillo and Vasquez Rueda were being held at Adelanto violated issued guidance that called for people to “avoid congregative environments and practice scrupulous social distancing.”

“The conditions at Adelanto place both petitioners at a significantly heightened and medically unacceptable risk not only of contracting COVID-19, but also of suffering severe complications and serious outcomes if they do become infected,” Mishori wrote.

Rosenbaum called the detention center “a breeding ground for the virus.”

Bravo Castillo and Vasquez Rueda were arrested by ICE agents last week, days after the governor and L.A. mayor ordered people to ramp up their efforts of social distancing over the coronavirus.

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Bravo Castillo was convicted in 2015 for DUI causing bodily injury and hit-and-run. Vasquez Rueda was convicted in 2017 for DUI.

Facing criticism from across the country for continued enforcement actions amid the coronavirus pandemic, ICE said it would shift its focus to “public safety risks.”

The agency said it would also focus on those subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds. For those who don’t fall into those categories, ICE said it would “exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.”

It is unclear when Bravo Castillo and Vasquez Rueda will be released. Bravo Castillo’s family said they are happily awaiting his return.

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“We’re so glad that he’s able to come home now,” said his stepdaughter, Martha Jaimez, 24. “I have so much weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Times staff writer Molly O’Toole contributed to this report.


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