Judge won’t stop migrant COVID-19 testing amid lawsuit

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal judge has declined to issue a temporary restraining order that would have prevented migrant farm workers from having to be tested for coronavirus.

The Friday ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Paul Maloney does not put an end to the lawsuit challenging the state-mandated testing. Rather, it says the state’s requirement stands while the lawsuit continues to move through the court system.

The lawsuit was filed last week by several seasonal farm workers and two fruit farms, including one in Van Buren County, against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon and the head of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

At the center of the dispute is an emergency order that Gordon issued Aug. 3 telling migrant housing operators and businesses that employ migrant workers to test everyone for the virus starting Aug. 24. The lawsuit claims the order is discriminatory because it targets Latinos and goes on to argue that it could cause harm to farms if workers refuse to get tested and therefore can’t help harvest crops.

But Maloney decided the plaintiffs haven’t yet proven the order is discriminatory and wrote that the order “serves a legitimate public interest, slowing the spread of COVID-19.”

“The lack of likelihood success on the merits and public interest outweighs the economic burden which Plaintiffs will likely suffer,” the judge wrote in denying the request.

In a statement released to media, MDHHS Director Gordon said his department “appreciates the judge’s ruling.”

“The department’s goal is to save lives during a pandemic that has killed more than 6,300 people in Michigan,” the statement continued. “At a time when farms, food processing plants and migrant worker camps face 21 outbreaks, the best way to save lives is to support and test these hard-working employees.”