2nd ICE detainee released from McHenry County Jail amid COVID-19 concerns

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A second U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee was released from the McHenry County Jail Wednesday, after a federal judge’s ruling on the man’s concerns about COVID-19.

U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled Monday that Muhammad Taufiq Butt was likely to succeed in showing that conditions in the McHenry County jail placed him at risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

Through an agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service, McHenry County earns $95 a day for each ICE detainee housed at the jail. Butt, a 65-year-old Pakistani citizen, had been detained by ICE at the McHenry County jail for more than three months at the time of his release, federal court records show.

Pallmeyer’s order was sealed from public viewing Wednesday. However, in a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which represented Butt on the matter, legal director Nusrat Jahan Choudhury said Butt’s immigration detention could have been “a death sentence.”

“Both of the people we represented in this lawsuit have been released. But detention facilities remain vectors of coronavirus, and many other medically vulnerable people remain in Illinois’ ICE facilities fearing they will be the next victim of COVID,” Choudhury said. “We will continue to work for the release of others who face these terrifying conditions.”

The federal lawsuit sought the release of two men: Souleymane Dembele and Butt. ACLU of Illinois, American Civil Liberties Union, and Faegre Drinker Biddle and Reath LLP filed the complaint on April 17 in Chicago on the men’s behalf against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and McHenry County officials.

The attorneys cited “crowded and unsanitary” conditions at the jail in Woodstock as a failure to protect the medically compromised men from the ongoing health pandemic.

McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim and Dan Sitkie, chief of corrections at the McHenry County Jail, both were named in the lawsuit.

The sheriff’s office vehemently disagreed with the ACLU statement in regard to what happenened in federal court, McHenry County Sheriff’s Sgt. Aimee Knop said.

Conditions including high blood pressure and pre-diabetes put Dembele, a 43-year-old citizen of Mali, at serious risk if he were to contract COVID-19, according to the complaint. A similar argument was made for Butt, who also suffers from high blood pressure, as well as diabetes and sleep apnea, according to the lawsuit.

Dembele was released from the jail last month, shortly after the suit was filed.

The suit also referenced a letter that two Department of Homeland Security medical experts recently sent to Congress, warning of the dangers COVID-19 poses to ICE detention facilities. In their letter, internist Scott Allen and infectious disease specialist Jody Rich, compared the jails to a “tinderbox,” threatening to overwhelm local hospital systems.

“To be more explicit, a detention center with a rapid outbreak could result in multiple detainees – five, ten or more – being sent to the local community hospital where there may only be six or eight ventilators over a very short period,” the men wrote. “As they fill up and overwhelm the ventilator resources, those ventilators are unavailable when the infection inevitably is carried by staff to the community ...”

At the end of March, just weeks before the lawsuit was filed, ICE detainees represented more than half the population at the McHenry County Jail.

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