First inmate at Linn County jail tests positive for COVID-19 (Updated)

courtesy of Linn County Sheriff’s Office

A person being held in the Linn County Correctional Center has tested positive for COVID-19, the Sheriff’s Department announced on Thursday. The individual has been in custody at the jail since July 15 on a hold order from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

According to a news release from the Sheriff’s Department, the individual has not exhibited any symptoms of the virus. He was at a local hospital for a medical condition unrelated to the virus. He was then transferred to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where he received a COVID-19 test due to the hospital’s protocol.

Following the test, which confirmed he was infected, the person was returned to the Linn County jail and was placed in a “medical isolation cell,” the department said. Other inmates who may have been exposed to the virus through contact with the individual have also been segregated from the jail’s general population and will be tested.

This is the first time a person incarcerated in the jail has tested positive for the virus, but in April, a deputy sheriff assigned to the jail tested positive.

Law enforcement agencies in Iowa are required to hold individuals already in custody if they receive written requests to do so from ICE, even if there are no local charges on which the person can be detained.

Many critics consider the practice to be an unconstitutional infringement of a person’s liberty since ICE’s hold orders do not have to be approved by a judge as normal arrest warrants are. But in 2018, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill that required law enforcement agencies to accept formal written requests from ICE to detain a person already in custody, until ICE can transfer that person into its custody. It also prohibited any municipality from having policies that discourage cooperation with ICE. The law would cut off all state funding to any city or county that violates it, until a district court judge determines it is in compliance with the law.

Previously, Linn and Johnson counties, as well as 24 other Iowa counties, did not detain people based on ICE requests unless a judge had approved the order.

In April, 37 Iowa legal and advocacy organizations, attorneys and law firms sent a letter to ICE asking the agency to stop issuing orders for people to be held in Iowa jails during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The lives and health of thousands of people in detention in Iowa jails, ICE officers, Iowa jail staff, and the public in the broader community are at stake,” the letter said. “We urge you to act now to prevent an outbreak, which would stretch our local health care system to the breaking point.”

ICE has not changed its policy of having people detained in Iowa jails.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the reason Iowa law enforcement agencies are required to honor ICE request to detain persons in custody.