Demand detainee release amid COVID-19 outbreak

Central Processing at McAllen Border Patrol facility

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on March 24 filed a lawsuit against US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) calling for the immediate release of at-risk immigrant detainees in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. The suit was brought on behalf of 13 immigrants that are currently held in California detention centers. The suit calls for the immediate release of these immigrants due to their “advanced age and underlying medical conditions” that make them “especially vulnerable to the potentially fatal COVID-19 infection while they are confined in crowded and unsanitary conditions where social distancing is not possible.” The plaintiffs suffer from conditions such as diabetes, severe asthma, high blood pressure, gout, hypothyroidism, severe anemia and more.

The complaint argues that the inherently communal living required of immigrants in detention makes proper social distancing measures impossible. It also references a recommendation from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties calling for consideration of releasing detainees that do not pose an immediate threat to public safety.

The ACLU has filed similar suits in the last week in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Washington state.

From Jurist, March 25. Used with permission.

Photo: US Customs and Border Control via Jurist

  1. Immigrants detained in areas with few hospitals

    US immigration officials say they have a plan if detention centers get hit with coronavirus outbreaks: They will transfer detainees with serious symptoms to hospitals with “expertise in high risk care.” But many centers—each housing hundreds of people, often in close quarters—are located in remote communities, far from hospitals able to handle a rush of patients with COVID-19. Detention center outbreaks in such areas could quickly swamp local hospitals, threatening their ability to treat local residents along with detainees.

    About a third of the 43,000 immigrants in detention as of March 2 were housed at facilities that have only one hospital—or none—with intensive-care beds within 25 miles, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the American Hospital Directory and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The seven sites with no such hospitals nearby held a total of about 5,000 detainees, according to the analysis, which examined centers that averaged 100 or more detainees. 

  2. Judge orders ICE to consider releasing detainees at COVD-19 risk

    US Judge Jesus Bernal of the Central District of California  issued a preliminary injunctionordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to improve its measures for protecting the health of detainees in the agency’s facilities and consider releasing those most at risk of contracting COVID-19. (Jurist)

  3. ICE ordered to reduce number of detainees in LA facility

    A federal judge on April 23 ordered US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to reduce the number of detainees in their Adelanto Processing Center in Los Angeles due to COVID-19 concerns. The injunction requires ICE to allow detainees enough space to keep six feet of distance between detainees at all times. (Jurist)

  4. Court: US must release children from family detention centers

    Citing the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, a federal judge in Los Angeles on June 26 ordered the release of migrant children held in the country’s three family detention centers. The order to release the children by July 17 came after plaintiffs in a long-running case reported that some of them have tested positive for the virus. It applies to children who have been held for more than 20 days in the detention centers run by Immigration & Customs Enforcement, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania.

    There were 124 children living in those facilities on June 8, according to the ruling.

    In her order, Judge Dolly M. Gee of the US District Court for the Central District of California criticized the Trump administration for its poor compliance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. To prevent the virus from spreading in congregate detention facilities, the agency had recommended social distancing, the wearing of masks and early medical intervention for those with virus symptoms.

    Judge Gee oversees compliance with the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement that sets national standards for the treatment and release of detained immigrant children. The Trump administration has been trying to terminate the settlement for the last two years, but those efforts have been blocked by Judge Gee and are currently being appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. (NYT)