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‚ÄĒeach housing hundreds of people, often in close quarters‚ÄĒare 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‚ÄĒor none‚ÄĒwith 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)

  5. Court upholds order requiring ICE to provide safer conditions

    The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld a district court injunction on Oct. 13 against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requiring safer conditions to protect detained immigrants from COVID-19. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court is permitted to offer injunctive relief ‚Äúto remedy unconstitutional conditions of confinement.‚ÄĚ

    The court stated that it was proper to certify a class of all of the detainees at Adelanto, a holding facility in California, because “the alleged due process violations exposed all Adelanto detainees to an unnecessary risk of harm,”¬†and a preliminary injunction protected them all. In upholding the injunction, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the district court properly held that the “Government likely failed to meet its constitutional duty to provide reasonably safe conditions to Plaintiffs.”

    The court also responded to new developments at Adelanto, as the facility is experiencing a COVID outbreak that has infected more than 50 detainees and at least eight staff members. However, the facility has far fewer detainees than it did at the time the district court heard the case. Based on these new factors, the court vacated the district court opinion in part and remanded in part. This sent the case back to the district court to consider the changes to the situation and determine whether the “government’s response has fallen short of constitutional standards.” (Jurist)

  6. Judge orders administration to cease expulsion of child migrants

    A judge for the US District Court for the District of Coumbia on Nov. 18 ordered the Trump administration to halt its expulsion of unaccompanied minor migrants. The plaintiff, a 15-year-old migrant from Guatemala, alleged that the current US practices constituted violations of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998.

    With the COVID-19 outbreak in March, the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines stating¬†that those determined to pose a serious danger of spreading “communicable disease”¬†should be returned to the country from which they entered the US, their country of origin, or “another location as practicable.”

    The father of the plaintiff in the case is living in the US, and the plaintiff sought to live with either his father or “another suitable sponsor.”¬†The plaintiff stated that he experienced “severe persecution in Guatemala”¬†and had his life threatened because he refused to join a gang.

    The judge held that the plaintiff is likely to succeed in his case and¬†granted the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction to halt the expulsion of migrant children.

    The court reached a similar holding earlier this year in a case in which a child from Honduras alleged similar threats. (Jurist)