In Victory for Detained Immigrants, Federal Judge Orders ICE to Review for Release Every Person with COVID-19 Risk Factors

In sweeping ruling, ICE ordered to conduct new assessments for every person at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in the custody of ICE, regardless of immigration case  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 20, 2020 RIVERSIDE, Calif. – A federal judge today ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to promptly revisit custody determinations, including consideration of release for all persons in ICE detention whose age or health conditions place them at increased risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order comes weeks after the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Orrick LLP and Willkie Farr and Gallagher LLP filed for an emergency preliminary injunction on March 25. In his blistering rebuke of the government’s response to COVID-19 in detention centers, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal wrote, “As a result of these deficiencies, many of which persist more than a month into the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court concludes Defendants have likely exhibited callous indifference to the safety and wellbeing of the Subclass members [detained immigrants at risk]. The evidence suggests systemwide inaction that goes beyond a mere ‘difference of medical opinion or negligence.” Martín Muñoz, a plaintiff in the case stated, “I was always very worried for my health in ICE custody for the three years I was detained. When the pandemic arrived, I felt even worse; I was resigned that something bad was going to happen and I felt lost. ICE never responded to me, they never took steps to protect me. I am so happy the judge is forcing ICE to take steps to protect others.”   “Our clients have...

Detained Migrants Win in Federal Court: Judge Greenlights Nationwide Class Action Lawsuit  

Tens of thousands of immigrants denied medical care and disability accommodations by the federal government will have their day in court A federal judge ruled today that a nationwide class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can proceed, greenlighting a challenge to ICE’s system-wide failure to provide standard medical and mental health care and disability accommodations for people in its custody. U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal issued the ruling in the lawsuit filed by Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. The plaintiffs seek zero monetary damages and instead only an end to the inhumane and traumatic experience of ICE detention affecting tens of thousands across the country. Judge Bernal denied the government’s motion to divide the nationwide lawsuit into 15 individual cases in eight district courts. He also denied ICE’s motion to strike the 200-page complaint, which was filed in the U.S District Court for the Central District of California in August 2019. The ruling comes amid the spread of Covid-19 in detention centers, a dangerous scenario that doctors and public health experts across the country have warned will only be made worse by ICE’s lack of pre-existing medical care and substandard detention center conditions. On March 25, the groups filed an emergency preliminary injunction motion in the case requiring ICE to immediately fix numerous deficiencies in its Covid-19 response, such as inadequate staffing, resources and oversight. The motion further seeks the immediate release of medically vulnerable people...

COVID-19 Response Focuses on Collaboration, Action & Impact

History shows that rights are even more likely to be threatened during – or shortly after – a crisis, during times of scarcity, and when fear predominates. Recognizing this, CREEC set in motion a three-pronged response at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our response employs strong collaboration and education, swift action for individuals in need, and broad impact litigation. In the last month CREEC has focused our resources on the following: We believe that we’re stronger together. Collaboration with sister organizations CREEC joined dozens of organizations to write emergency letters and complaints in California, Colorado, Montana and Tennessee advocating for fair and legal treatment of the most vulnerable groups during this crisis, including: letter to Colorado Governor Jared Polis seeking policies and procedures to protect the rights of people with disabilities, with an emphasis on access to health care; letter to DHS, ICE and GEO Group officials at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California requesting parole for medically vulnerable detained immigrants; complaint filed with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Civil Rights about COVID-19 treatment rationing plan in Tennessee and; work with the ACLU of Montana requesting reduction of population of incarcerated persons and appointment of a special master (in progress). Educating others to help CREEC’s expertise in civil rights for people with disabilities, immigrants in detention, and at the intersection of immigration and disability rights is being put to good use preparing others to help some of the most vulnerable groups during this pandemic, including: participating in a Denver Tele-Town Hall Meeting panel to discuss health care at the Aurora ICE Processing Center. virtually...

New Initiative – IDAP Help Desk

Recently CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project (IDAP) expanded its services to include a robust Help Desk component. The number of migrants and asylum seekers who are being detained in immigration prisons or denied entry at the U.S. border has increased dramatically; so, too, has the number of medically vulnerable and people with disabilities in that population. The conditions for people with disabilities and the medically vulnerable who are detained in immigration jails are stark and their rights are routinely infringed or completely ignored. Many immigration attorneys, advocates, and directly impacted people on the frontlines of this crisis need additional support as they work at the intersection of disability and immigration law. CREEC can help. CREEC’s Help Desk was established to provide quick, effective technical assistance in our areas of expertise to those who will benefit the most. Given the ever-growing human and civil rights violations at our borders and in immigration prisons, and further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, we anticipate significant growth in the need for the kind of technical assistance CREEC can provide. Overall, the Help Desk has given assistance to more than 50 people since its inception. Below are just a few recent examples of people who have received assistance through CREEC’s Immigration Detention Accountability Project Help Desk. Anderson Avisai Gutierrez Mr. Anderson Avisai Gutierrez is a 27-year-old Guatemalan asylum seeker detained at the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana. Despite an attempt to die by suicide and severe mental health disabilities, Mr. Gutierrez has been placed in solitary confinement for over eight months, where his mental health has further deteriorated. Jennifer Savage, a volunteer with...

Letter to Gov. Polis Urging Protection of Rights and Access to Care of People with Disabilities During COVID-19 Pandemic

CREEC and 19 other organizations sent this letter to Colorado Governor Jared Polis. You’ll find the complete list of participating organizations in the signature section of this letter. All footnotes and links to signatory organizations are at the end of the letter. March 25, 2020 Re: Survival of People with Disabilities during COVID-19 Pandemic Dear Governor Polis, We want to start this letter by thanking you for your extraordinary leadership during this crisis. Unlike our peers in other states, we are being included in policy decisions and working closely with members of your team (like Elisabeth Arenales) and your cabinet (Kim Bimestefer, Michelle Barnes, Jill Hunsaker-Ryan, and others). We appreciate being involved and allowed to help your administration make the best possible decisions in a horrible situation. People with disabilities and chronic health conditions are doubly vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis: they are vulnerable to acquiring the virus and to suffering more severe effects, and they are vulnerable to healthcare discrimination that may deny them necessary care. As a result, Coloradans with disabilities and chronic health conditions are experiencing escalating fear and anxiety, on top of any physical effects of viral illness. We need your continued leadership to communicate and ensure that Colorado will protect the rights and access to care of disabled people of all ages. Colorado has a strong and united disability community that includes ADAPT, Centers for Independent Living, Arc Chapters, Disability Law Colorado, numerous organizations representing specific disability groups such as the Colorado Metal Wellness Network, the National Federation of the Blind Colorado chapter, and the Colorado Commission for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and...