Disability rights advocates sue Trump Administration for “Migrant Protection Protocols”

Class action lawsuit seeks relief for asylum seekers with disabilities living in Mexico. SAN DIEGO, Cal. – Today, asylum seekers with disabilities who are forced to wait for immigration proceedings in Mexico filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its “Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy. It is the first class-action suit challenging MPP’s discriminatory practices on the basis of disability. If it succeeds, not only would it hold the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) accountable for breaking its own rules, hundreds of class members with disabilities would likely be allowed to wait in safer conditions stateside with their sponsors. Under the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) own stated procedures, asylum seekers with “known physical or mental health issues” cannot be sent to Mexico. The lawsuit argues that the Trump administration is violating the Administrative Procedures Act by failing to abide by its own stated policy, trapping hundreds of asylum seekers with disabilities and their families in Mexico at enormous risk to their health and safety. These violations also infringe on federal disability protections, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. “The ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is inherently unfit and violent for any asylum seeker, but it is particularly dangerous, and unlawful, for those living with disabilities,” said Erin Thorn Vela, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “Our lawsuit is demanding that the Trump administration comply with its own stated policy. But let’s be clear, this policy has created a humanitarian catastrophe for tens of thousands of people who have the legal right to seek asylum but have been effectively barred from that right...

Federal Judge Rejects ICE’s ‘Weak’ Implementation of Court-Ordered Custody Determinations of High Risk Individuals and Other Safety Measures

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb inside detention centers, Court finds ICE has fallen “far below” compliance with its previous injunction. FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Last night in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal granted civil rights organizations’ motion to enforce a preliminary injunction in their class-action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), ordering the agency to perform custody determinations to all individuals in all of their detention centers across the country with medical risk factors that increase their risk of serious COVID-19 complications in compliance with the Court’s April 20 injunction. In his order, Judge Bernal found that ICE has fallen “far short” of complying with the April 20 order, adding that, “the Court is gravely concerned that Fraihat custody decisions are a disorganized patchwork of non-responses or perfunctory denials” and that, “more active monitoring of Defendants’ compliance is needed.” The Court went on to issue several clarifications to the April 20 injunction including ICE’s obligation to identify and track individuals with risk factors within five days of their detention and to make timely custody determinations, including individuals subject to mandatory detention. The order also clarifies limits on transfers between facilities, a practice that has contributed to massive COVID-19 outbreaks inside detention centers, and bans solitary confinement as a quarantine measure, a punitive and inhumane practice that goes against public health recommendations. “This order shows that ICE has essentially ignored the court for nearly six months,” said Pilar Gonzalez Morales, a senior attorney at the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center. “ICE’s actions are not just...

Months Later, the Fraihat Hotline Remains Necessary

“We couldn’t keep up with the calls and voicemails at first,” said Pilar Gonzalez Morales, Senior Staff Attorney at CREEC, “it was a tsunami of people who were in crisis, seeking re-assessment and needing help to do so.” In response to a motion for an emergency preliminary injunction filed by CREEC and co-counsel on March 25, 2020 in Fraihat v ICE, the court ordered ICE to conduct new assessments for every person at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 in ICE custody for release redetermination. If ICE cannot take the medically necessary precautions to protect medically vulnerable people in immigration detention, they should be released and allowed to shelter in place safely in their homes. To ensure contact with those medically vulnerable people, the court also ordered ICE to create a free, confidential hotline that detained people could call to contact Fraihat class counsel in May 2020. The word spread quickly. “The sheer volume of calls to the hotline showed us that ICE had followed at least one requirement of the court’s order and that was to post the redetermination ruling and hotline number in ICE detention jails,” said Gonzalez Morales. Unfortunately, it has also revealed the chaos of ICE’s inadequate COVID-19 response and utter lack of a consistent, navigable process in ICE detention prisons for immigrants who are eligible for re-determination and their advocates to follow. “We have learned from hotline callers that what should be a straight-forward redetermination application process for people who are medically vulnerable and scared of the COVID breeding ground that exists in congregate settings like ICE prisons, is actually a nearly impossible path full...

Advocates Take ICE Back to Court Requesting Enforcement of Previous Ruling to Protect People in Custody from COVID-19

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 25, 2020 Attorneys from national civil rights organizations seek to enforce earlier order to ensure the safety of thousands of people in detention RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Last night civil rights advocates filed a motion to enforce a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Central Division of California, seeking to enforce U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal’s recent order imposed on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Attorneys in the ongoing system-wide class action lawsuit Fraihat v ICE argue that ICE has flouted Judge Bernal’s order in three critical areas: failure to implement meaningful oversight measures; failure to review for release all people with COVID-19 risk factors; and failure to quickly and adequately update their detention standards to ensure the safety of medically vulnerable people in detention. In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases have continued to skyrocket in ICE detention centers across the country – a grim reality proving that the agency is knowingly putting people at risk in defiance of the Court’s order. By ICE’s own count, there were 124 people in their custody who tested positive for COVID-19 at the time of the April 20 order. Today, that number is close to 2,500. ICE continues to detain the majority of medically vulnerable people in their custody in unsafe conditions. Two individuals, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia and Santiago Baten-Oxlaj, recently died of COVID-19 while in ICE custody – a tragic and senseless loss of life resulting from the agency’s decision to continue to detain them in dangerous conditions despite having broad discretion to release people. “Six weeks ago,...

New Partnership – We the Action

As the need became more dire, CREEC knew who to call on.  We the Action. The successful request for emergency preliminary injunction in the Fraihat v. ICE case filed by CREEC and co-counsel at the start of the pandemic opened the legal door for thousands of immigrants in detention who are medically vulnerable to be potentially released. Except that ICE detains thousands of people who have no legal representation, and we could not be sure ICE was appropriately considering those people. When the need for short-term legal help for people covered under the court’s order increased, CREEC reached out to We the Action – a nonprofit that pairs volunteer lawyers with mission compatible projects. Director of CREEC’s Immigration Accountability Project (IDAP), Elizabeth Jordan explains, “We frankly don’t trust ICE to get this process right, and we know that data has proven time and again that immigrants who have lawyers have better odds for better outcomes on all sorts of issues. We felt that we had a duty to Fraihat class members to match as many of them as possible with lawyers to help them seek release and stay safe from the pandemic.” CREEC applied to be a We the Action partner, proposing a project in which volunteer lawyers could provide limited representation for detained people seeking custody review pursuant to the Fraihat order. Just six days after posting the project on We the Action’s website, we heard from six interested attorneys. In five short weeks, the number of volunteers grew to 38. To date, volunteer attorneys have helped at least 16 detained people request release and many more are...

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...