First Inmate Positive COVID-19 Case at N.H. Correctional Facility

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Never Again Action of New Hampshire photo.

Photo is from a previous rolling rally organized by Never Again Action of New Hampshire at Strafford County House of Correction in Dover.

ICE detainee at Strafford County Dept. of Corrections tests positive for COVID-19

DOVER – A civil immigration detainee who recently arrived at Strafford County House of Corrections has tested positive for COVID-19, the day after it was announced that a staff member was positive.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that the detainee has been isolated at the facility since his arrival, said Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU-NH’s legal director.

This is the first confirmed case of an inmate at a New Hampshire correctional facility testing positive for COVID-19, Bissonnette said.

“This confirmed case of a detainee testing positive should come as no surprise given that, even amid this pandemic, ICE regularly transfers detainees across state lines to and from this facility,” Bissonnette said. “With such regular transfers, a confirmed case for COVID-19 was inevitable in the facility.”

A federal judge on Thursday issued a written decision in a class action lawsuit that Immigration and Customs Enforcement civil immigration detainees at Strafford County Department of Corrections are entitled to bail hearings if they are medically vulnerable. 

 Since May 4, the court has conducted 11 bail hearings for medically vulnerable immigration detainees, and seven have been released on bail. Additionally, on April 17, ICE has voluntarily released an additional 7 detainees without a bail hearing. In total, 14 detainees have been released as a result of this lawsuit.

 For immigration detainees who are not medically vulnerable, the court is still considering whether they are entitled to bail hearings and will hear additional evidence on May 29. The written order can be found here.

“As the Court presciently said in an order issued two days ago, ‘no one can dispute that, despite the laudable leadership of the superintendent, it is likely only a matter of time before the jail sees its first case.’ Sadly, the court has been proven correct. Especially in light of this development, ICE should immediately stop all transfers into the facility,” Bissonnette said.

In addressing whether ICE failed to take reasonable measures to prevent an outbreak at Strafford, the court decision states: “As of May 1, almost a month after the April 4 ERO e-mail, respondents had yet to identify any high-risk detainees …. (ICE) has put forward no evidence or explanation for this failure to identify obvious high-risk cases. And it has been demonstrated that this review and identification can be completed expeditiously …. The court is deeply troubled by (ICE’s) failure to identify high-risk detainees until forced to do so by this lawsuit.”

The ACLU of New Hampshire and national ACLU, together with law firms Nixon Peabody LLP, Whatley Kallas LLP, Shaheen & Gordon PA, Newman Law Office PLLC, and Hinckley Allen & Snyder LLP brought this class action lawsuit on April 17. Maintaining a social distance of six feet is crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19—something that is impossible at the Dover facility, according to ACLU-NH

As of May 14, 965 immigration detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 across the United States. 

Court documents can be found at:

A “Rolling Rally” in which cars drive by is planned for Sunday, May 17 to celebrate the release of 14 immigration detainees there, and urge Immigration and Customs Enforcement to free those still held, with the message, “ICE Have a Heart.”

The event is expected to draw over 70 drivers at 1 p.m. at Strafford County House of Corrections in Dover. Never Again Action of New Hampshire is organizing the rally, its sixth in as many weeks. Its petition to free immigrants  has gained nearly 800 signatures.

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