ACLU files lawsuit against ICE demanding release of 12 immigrants at risk of dying from COVID-19

Coronavirus
Mesa Verde Detention Center to remain open

SAN FRANCISCO (KGET) — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding ICE release twelve at-risk immigrants detained in two ICE detention centers in the state, including Mesa Verde in Bakersfield.

Because of their advanced age and underlying medical conditions, the ACLU said the 13 plaintiffs are especially vulnerable to the potentially fatal COVID-19 infection while they are confined in crowded and unsanitary conditions where social distancing is not possible.

The plaintiffs are detained by U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield and at the Yuba County Jail, according to the ACLU.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU Foundations of Northern California and Southern California, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office and Lakin & Wille LLP. 

ICE said it does not comment on pending litigation.

The CDC has identified people with the following conditions as having a particularly high risk of severe COVID-19: those who have blood disorders, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, compromised immune systems, current or recent pregnancy, endocrine disorders, metabolic disorders, heart disease, lung disease and neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions.

“From all the evidence we have seen, ICE is failing to fulfill its constitutional obligation to protect the health and safety of individuals in its custody. ICE should exercise its existing discretion to release people with serious medical conditions from detention for humanitarian reasons,” said William Freeman, senior counsel at the ACLU of Northern California.

Ricardo Vasquez Cruz, another plaintiff in the case, is 45 years old, suffers from diabetes, gout, gastritis and high blood pressure, and had tuberculosis in 2018. He and the detainees in his pod at the Yuba County Jail are forced to clean their own area, but are not given appropriate supplies, according to the ACLU.

Cruz said he is afraid of every surface he touches, especially because new detainees are still being brought in. He said he hopes to be released to live with his son, a U.S. citizen, while he fights his immigration case.

“The stakes for the release of detained persons are at an all-time high as the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak places them at an elevated risk of ailment or death,” said Stephanie Padilla, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. ”ICE must allow for the release of detainees not only for their safety, but for that of their staff and the community as a whole.”

Judah Lakin, with Lakin & Wille, issued the following statement: 

“ICE has proven time and again, even under the best of circumstances, that it is not capable of protecting the health and safety of incarcerated individuals. These are extraordinary circumstances and public health experts around the country have rung the warning bell that the only way to protect incarcerated individuals, as well as the broader community, is to depopulate jails and prisons. These plaintiffs all have risk factors that place them at an increased risk of serious harm if they contract COVID-19 and should be released immediately.”

Bree Bernwanger, a senior staff attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, issued the following statement:

“Locking up immigrants in for-profit prisons and county jails has always been senseless, cruel, and dangerous. Now, it looks to be deadly on a massive scale. We will not stop until ICE finally prioritizes human life over its racist and anti-immigrant agenda and releases our plaintiffs from detention under conditions that could kill them.”

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