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...

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...

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...

CREEC and Co-Counsel File Preliminary Injunction in Fraihat v ICE Case

CREEC and Co-counsel Seek Emergency Court Ruling for Immediate COVID-19 Protections for People in Immigration Jails Early this morning, CREEC and others filed an emergency application for a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California seeking a court order requiring that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) take immediate steps to protect people in immigration detention facilities from COVID-19, particularly those at heightened risk. The motion immediately follows ICE’s own admission of the first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 of a person in ICE detention. The motion argues that if ICE cannot or will not immediately take steps to ensure that medically vulnerable people are protected from COVID-19 – including providing timely access to qualified and necessary healthcare – then the Court should order ICE to release those individuals in the interest of public health. Dr. Jaimie Meyer, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Assistant Clinical Professor of Nursing at Yale notes, “The risk posed by infectious diseases in jails and prisons is significantly higher than in the community, both in terms of risk of transmission, exposure, and harm to individuals who become infected.“ The preliminary injunction is being requested as part of an existing class action lawsuit, Fraihat v. ICE, on behalf of the nearly 40,000 people held in ICE immigration jails throughout ICE’s detention system. Based on first-hand observations from attorneys serving clients inside detention centers and direct reports from people who are detained, the current conditions are medically dangerous and fail to meet standard public health recommendations for addressing the pandemic. Jimmy Sudney, Plaintiff in Fraihat v. ICE states, “I have several...