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 medical conditions that make me vulnerable to COVID-19…Even if they did tell us to stay away from others, it is impossible to do so in detention because there are so many people who share one dorm.”
Bringing ICE’s cavalier and inhumane treatment into full-focus, Fraihat v. ICE Plaintiff, Martin Munoz states,
“Several weeks ago, I asked an ICE official what the plan was for me because I am older and at risk for a bad COVID-19 infection. He laughed at me and told me I did not qualify for anything.”
According to the court filing, ICE has not provided even the most basic public health protections inside immigration jails. Its failure to take preventative measures – like reducing crowding to implement social distancing or providing soap and hand sanitizer – places individuals with underlying conditions including asthma, heart conditions, compromised immune systems, and other serious health conditions in imminent danger of infection and death. Current ICE protocols do not even consider trying to identify high-risk individuals, much less take the significant steps necessary to reduce the risk of contagion, illness, serious complications, and death.
The threat of COVID-19 compounds the existing inhumane conditions in detention centers already highlighted in the lawsuit. In several instances, detention centers have not provided any information about COVID-19 to detained people, meaning they do not know the symptoms or how to even try to protect themselves from infection.
Karen Zwick, Director of National Immigrant Justice Center remarks, “Our clients also universally report that neither ICE nor facility staff have provided them with meaningful information or education about the pandemic, leaving the to manage their anxieties- and medical issues – with little or no reliable information about what precautionary measures they could be taking.”
If the preliminary injunction is granted, ICE would be required to immediately assess medically vulnerable people for COVID-19 risk factors and either immediately implement medically necessary precautions consistent with standards of care, or release them. Additionally, ICE would immediately be required to provide basic protections such as providing ample soap and hand sanitizer, protocols for transporting people to the hospital, and appropriately testing and treating anyone with COVID-19 symptoms.
The motion seeks the release of those in detention if ICE cannot take medically necessary precautions.
Carlos Franco-Paredes, Infectious disease clinician, comments, “A large outbreak of COVID-19 in an immigration detention facility would put a tremendous strain on the medical system to the detriment of patients in the communities surrounding these centers. It is reasonable to anticipate that there will be the loss of additional lives that could have otherwise been saved.”
Declarations from people in detention, medical experts, and legal providers detailing the conditions inside immigration jails across the country are available.
The organizations filing for the preliminary injunction and litigating Fraihat v. ICE are Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Disability Rights Advocates, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Law firms Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP are serving as pro bono co-counsel.
Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) is a nonprofit membership organization whose goal is to ensure that everyone can fully and independently participate in our nation’s civic life without discrimination based on race, gender, disability, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. https://creeclaw.org/.
Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), founded in 1993, is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. Its mission is to advance equal rights and opportunity for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. DRA represents people with the full spectrum of disabilities in complex, system-changing, class action cases. Thanks to DRA’s precedent-setting work, people with disabilities across the country have dramatically improved access to health care, employment, transportation, education, disaster preparedness planning, voting, housing, and juvenile justice. https://www.dralegal.org.
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Through its Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative, SPLC provides direct representation to immigrants in remote, rural detention centers in two of the states with the highest numbers of detained individuals, Louisiana and Georgia. https://www.splcenter.org/.