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Another ICE detainee released from Wyatt; Prison now has at least six COVID-19 cases

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“The risk of contracting COVID-19 in a detention center, such as the Wyatt, is dangerously high. As warned by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), conditions of confinement inherently prevent one’s ability to socially distance, which, until a treatment is discovered, or a vaccine developed, is the best measure to reduce the spread of the disease. Courts around the country are recognizing this fact.”


In additional to the order from Judge William Smith ordering the release of two ICE detainees from the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island, United States District Judge John McConnell filed a ruling ordering the immediate release of ICE detainee Shahdan Sallaj, “due to health concerns created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”


UPDATE: ICE declined to comment on the court’s decision, the release of ICE detainees from the Wyatt, or on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at the prison.

UPDATE II: The Wyatt sent me a copy of their April 24 Daily Status Report noting “an increase in positive cases among its detainees.” Here’s the data:


In his ruling, Judge McConnell noted that “Mr Sallaj is forty years old and a native of Kosovo. He arrived in the United States in March 2008, and, after marrying his wife, a United States citizen, he became a conditional legal resident. In 2011, the conditions on Mr Sallaj’s legal residence were removed and he became an unconditional legal resident. Mr Sallaj and his wife have a two-and-a-half-year-old son.

“On March 17, 2020, Mr Sallaj was detained by the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Connecticut and transferred to the Wyatt. The impetus for Mr Sallaj’s detention was his January 2019 conviction for misdemeanor reckless endangerment in the first degree” in Connecticut. ICE claims this conviction is grounds for Mr Sallaj’s removal. For this conviction, Mr Sallaj was sentenced to a one·year suspended sentence. He has served no time in criminal custody.”


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The Judge writes that, because “it is highly contagious with a relatively high mortality rate, the spread of COVID-19 in a closed facility, such as an immigration detention center, would be devastating.”

Judge McConnell then writes that:

“On April 21, 2020, the Wyatt reported the first positive COVID-19 test result of a detainee in its custody. As of today, six positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the Wyatt.” [emphasis mine]

Sallaj argued that being held as a civil detainee in Wyatt for thirty days has put him at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and, as a result, violates his Fifth Amendment right to substantive due process. McConnell agreed, citing Castillo v Barr, quoting the ruling, “When the Government detains a person for the violation of an immigration law, the person is a civil detainee, even if he has a prior criminal conviction.”

“Thus, as a civil detainee,” writes Judge McConnell, “Mr Sallaj is entitled to more considerate treatment than a criminal detainee, whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish.”

The Judge writes:

“The risk of contracting COVID-19 in a detention center, such as the Wyatt, is dangerously high. As warned by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), conditions of confinement inherently prevent one’s ability to socially distance, which, until a treatment is discovered, or a vaccine developed, is the best measure to reduce the spread of the disease. Courts around the country are recognizing this fact.”

McConnell further writes that though the Wyatt maintains that it “has taken measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 spreading, its ability to do so is diminishing. There are now six confirmed positive cases at the Wyatt. But the full extent of the risk is unknown because, as of today, only 68 detainees have been tested out of the 581 being held at Wyatt. Under these circumstances, the Court finds that Mr Sallaj has met his burden of showing a likelihood of success on the merits of his Fifth Amendment claim because continuing to hold him in civil detention at the Wyatt, where COVID-19 is present, could expose him to an unnecessary substantial risk of serious harm to his health.”

Towards the end of his ruling Judge McConnell writes”

“The balance of equities weighed in favor of releasing Mr Sallaj because of his
risk of irreparable injury and because the potential harm to the Respondents is
limited. When you balance the risk of releasing Mr Sallaj’s civil detainee, who was convicted of a misdemeanor, who is in this country with proper documents, and has an American citizen wife and child, against the substantial risks, evident and unknown, at the Wyatt-the equities and public interest fall on the side of release. The Court is imposing certain conditions on Mr Sallaj released as the Respondents request. Additionally, the risk that Mr Sallaj will flee, given the current global pandemic and the fact that Mr Sallaj’s wife and son are still in Connecticut, is low.

“Finally, it is without question that granting the TRO is in the public’s interest
as it is intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within the Wyatt. A spread of COVID-19 in this detention facility would be disastrous for the health and safety of those living and working there, as well as the burden it would cause on valuable medical resources.”

The condition of Mr Sallaj’s release are:

  1. Mr. Sallaj will remain self-quarantined for a period of fourteen days from his release at the location to which he is released. He may leave that location during the fourteen-day period solely to obtain necessary medical treatment.
  2. Mr. Sallaj will not alter the location to which he is released without prior approval of the Court.
  3. Mr. Sallaj must comply with all federal, state, and local directives related to COVID-19.
  4. Mr. Sallaj will refrain from any illegal activity while released.