A recent order to release a Pakistani immigration detainee from the McHenry County jail was based on the uncertainty of a deportation date – not the unsanitary conditions alleged in a federal lawsuit last month, McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim said.
In a statement issued Monday, Prim called the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois’ summary of the man’s release an “outrageous distortion” of a federal judge’s findings. The Illinois ACLU maintained its position, however, claiming that “detention facilities across the country remain vectors for coronavirus.”
The disagreement centered on a federal judge’s May 7 ruling that 65-year-old Muhammad Taufiq Butt could be released from federal immigration custody, where he’d been since January.
A lawsuit filed April 17 in Chicago sought the release of two men: Souleymane Dembele and Butt, both of whom have since been released. ACLU of Illinois, American Civil Liberties Union, and Faegre Drinker Biddle and Reath LLP filed the complaint on the men’s behalf against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and McHenry County officials. According to the suit, Butt’s high blood pressure and pre-diabetes would put him at serious risk if he were to contract COVID-19. The complaint also cited “crowded and unsanitary” conditions at the jail as a failure to protect medically compromised detainees from the ongoing health pandemic. Those allegations included claims that detainees weren’t informed until April 26 that they could request a mask, and that a jail nurse reportedly let her mask “hang” while distributing mediation, court transcripts show.
Soon after Butt’s release, the ACLU of Illinois issued a statement announcing that U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer ruled that the man 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.
But Prim didn’t remember it that way.
“Mr. [Butt] and the ACLU do prevail in the judge’s findings, on the inability to be removed under time constraints, not the conditions of the McHenry County Correctional Facility,” Prim said in an official statement emailed Monday.
According to federal court transcripts from an April 29 hearing, Pallmeyer wasn’t convinced at the time that Butt’s health put him at a high enough risk to be released or that the jail was failing to protect him from contracting COVID-19.
By the next hearing on May 7, however, Pallmeyer seemed to agree that Butt’s conditions put him at “a significant risk for COVID-19.” The judge went on to say that she believed the McHenry County jail was being “run quite well” and that detainees were in a position to wear masks or socially distance themselves if they wished to.
“All that said, the fact that there’s no firm date on which he’s going to be removed from the United States troubles me, particularly because the destination to which he would be moved is one ... that flights are more difficult to arrange,” Pallmeyer said.
At the time of the ruling, no detainees or jail staff had tested positive for COVID-19. The sheriff’s office does not test detainees who are asymptomatic, according to court transcripts.
Per the governor’s order, jail staff and inmates have been provided with and required to wear masks since May 1, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Oswald, who represents ICE officials on the matter. Oswald also noted that detainees can opt to eat their meals in their cell, rather than the common area, in favor of social distancing.
“The ACLU is entitled to their opinions but not their own set of facts,” Prim said. “We believe the court transcripts will indicate that the ACLU’s statement is patently untrue specific to the judge’s statement and jail conditions.”
Butt, who lives in Skokie, still was awaiting deportation Monday. Regardless of the judge’s reasoning, ACLU of Illinois spokesman Ed Yohnka said he’s happy with the decision.
“The unmistakable fact is that detention facilities across the country remain vectors for coronavirus spread because it is extraordinarily difficult in those facility to ensure the social distancing and vigilant hygiene and sanitation that is our best protection from the virus,” Yohnka said.