Immigrant Advocates File Second Lawsuit Asking Federal Court to Order Immediate Release of Detained Migrants Due to COVID-19 Risk

Immigrant advocates on Monday filed a second lawsuit in federal court, requesting the immediate release of 13 people who are at high risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19. Since the lawsuit was filed one of the petitioners has been released. The remaining 12 petitioners are detained in two Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities in Eloy, AZ, both of which have outbreaks of COVID-19. The case was brought by the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project (Florence Project), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Arizona (ACLU AZ), and Perkins Coie LLP. The same coalition filed a previous lawsuit in April, in which a federal judge found that conditions in detention centers “pose an objectively unreasonable risk of transmission of COVID-19 and a resulting substantial risk of seriously harm to Petitioner’s health and ultimate safety.”

Nine of the 12 petitioners are detained in the Core Civic La Palma Correctional Center, where ICE has reported 78 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The other three are detained at the Core Civic Eloy Detention Center, where there are 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The 12 petitioners are adults ranging in age from 18 to 49, who hail from all over the world and all have medical conditions that put them at acute, imminent risk for complications or even death if they contract COVID-19. One petitioner, Joaquin, a Venezuelan asylum seeker, has already contracted COVID-19 and was in isolation. Joaquin is just 18 years old and has bilateral pneumonia and severe asthma. He is fleeing political persecution and was brutally beaten in his home country.

“People detained in these facilities continue to be at severe risk because the facilities’ plans are both insufficient and not being effectively implemented,” said Laura Belous, Florence Project Advocacy Attorney. “Release from detention is the only option to protect the health and safety of detained migrants.”

The Florence Project has previously filed humanitarian parole requests for each of the petitioners, and ICE has the discretion to release them at any time, but has yet to do so.

“Our recent investigation of conditions of confinement at La Palma exposed widespread lack of sanitation, inadequate medical care, and abusive and retaliatory staff—and this was before COVID-19,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “The conditions at these facilities were dangerous before the pandemic, and have become even more deadly now. ICE has a constitutional mandate to ensure safety and should release these detainees. It is atrocious that private prison companies continue to profit off the civil detention of immigrants during this deadly pandemic. This is not the country we aspire to be.”

“ICE and Core Civic have not done enough to protect detained migrants. It is simply impossible to effectively practice social distancing and protect oneself in these facilities,” said Victoria López, Advocacy and Legal Director at the ACLU of Arizona. “Additionally, our clients have told us that they are not getting nutritious food or proper sanitation supplies and report delays in access to medical care for many days and even weeks. We brought this suit to protect their basic human rights and demand their immediate release from detention.”

People in immigration detention are extremely vulnerable to the spread of infectious disease and the conditions in these facilities “amount to punishment and violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment,” as a federal judge noted in our first lawsuit, Urdaneta v. Keeton.

The complaint is available here.