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Forty-five cases of Covid-19 confirmed at Batavia detention center

What started as a trickle of Covid-19 cases at the Federal Detention Center in Batavia is turning into a surge.

Ten days ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced four confirmed cases at the immigration facility.

On Monday, the number jumped to 45.

Even more significant, perhaps, detainees with the virus include at least 24 immigrants who are younger than 40. Twelve of them are in their 20s.

The increase in Covid-19 cases makes the detention center a hot spot for Genesee County, a largely rural area. The county is reporting 130 confirmed cases of the virus and two deaths.

When news of the increase became public, prisoner rights advocates were quick to blame the U.S. Department of Justice, the agency overseeing ICE and the immigration court that continues to hear cases inside the detention center.

"By forcing the court inside of the facility to keep operating with a full calendar, they continued to mix people from the outside with detainees," said Robert Elardo, executive director of the Erie County Bar Association's Volunteer Lawyers Project, in a statement Tuesday.

Elardo said lawyers in the cases are appearing remotely but detainees are forced to interact with court personnel.

"The highest levels of the Department of Justice seem to not care about the health and safety of the detainees, the court personnel and others who are required to work inside of the detention facility," he said.

[Related: 'Prisons are tinderboxes for the virus,' say lawyers calling for release of at-risk prisoners]

The news came as detainees, many of them older or with an underlying medical condition, continue to seek emergency release from the 650-bed facility.

In one lawsuit, a group of 27 detainees sued ICE in Buffalo federal court, and the judge in the case found at least half of them to be "vulnerable individuals."

He also ordered special protective measures for several detainees, including single-occupancy cells and the ability to eat meals in those cells and bathe or shower in isolation.

One of the groups behind that lawsuit expressed outrage Tuesday over ICE's failure to release detainees.

"There is absolutely no reason these individuals should not be allowed to go home and be with their families and loved ones during this crisis," Karen Murtagh, executive director of Prisoners' Legal Services of New York, said in a statement. "We are deeply concerned that the failure of ICE to release individuals from BDFD will result in a death sentence for many in and outside of the facility."

From the start of the outbreak, ICE has maintained it is doing all it can to protect detainees and staff.

The agency says it is abiding by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on everything from when to use protective equipment and ventilators to who gets tested for the virus.

It also reduced its population by half in response to the virus and is housing detainees with a greater risk of exposure separate from the general population.

The confirmed cases announced Monday include immigrants from 14 countries, including Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Mexico and El Salvador.

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