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April 10, 2020

HARRISBURG - A federal court in Harrisburg today lifted a stay, upholding its decision from earlier this week that ordered the release of 20 people currently held in immigration detention (two clients have already been released) in two county facilities in Pennsylvania. Federal district Judge John E. Jones III issued the ruling after considering a motion to reconsider filed by the U.S. attorneys’ office, who represents  Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

On Tuesday, Judge Jones ruled that the 22 people who filed the lawsuit must be released but issued a stay of his own ruling after ICE filed its motion, leaving all of the plaintiffs incarcerated.

The 20 plaintiffs are all at heightened risk of serious illness and death if they contract COVID-19 due to age, underlying serious health conditions, or both. In response to the filing by ICE, the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed their own brief indicating that conditions at both the York County Prison and the Pike County Correctional Facility have worsened in recent weeks. In their brief, the plaintiffs stated that they have gone days without being resupplied with soap, that in both jails people without symptoms of COVID-19 are being housed with people with symptoms, and that masks and hand sanitizer are not distributed to people in detention. 

In addition, seven people who are detained and four corrections staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Pike County jail, and two people who were detained there died after they were released. One person who is detained at York County Prison has tested positive.

Judge Jones’ latest order requires that all 20 people be released by the close of business today. The plaintiffs are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Immigrants Rights Project, and the law firm Dechert LLP. The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:

“We are relieved that Judge Jones has brought this saga to a close. We hope this is the last word. The continued incarceration of our clients and others like them puts them in very real danger of serious illness or even death. The spread of COVID-19 at the jail in Pike County and the rapid spread in jails in New York and Illinois are dark forewarnings of what can happen in jails and prisons all over the state and the country if corrections officials fail to act.”

The following can be attributed to Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:

“Our clients, who are civil detainees, spent three extra days unnecessarily locked up, potentially exposing them to infection, all because ICE acted as a roadblock to their release. Rather than mitigating this public health crisis, their efforts aggravated it. That said, we are grateful that our clients will finally be free.”

More information about this case is available at