SAN FRANCISCO (KGET) – A class-action lawsuit has been filed against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on behalf of Immigrants detained at the Mesa Verde ICE detention center in Bakersfield and the Yuba County Jail.
The American Civil Liberties Union said the lawsuit is asking the federal district court to order the immediate release of detainees from unsafe conditions which endanger their health and lives in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
While a federal judge has ordered the release of some individuals in response to legal challenges, this is the first class action filed on behalf of everyone detained at these two facilities, according to the ACLU.
“Everyone in these facilities faces a risk of death because of how tightly they are packed together,” said Bill Freeman, senior counsel at the ACLU of Northern California. “ICE must immediately reduce the number of detainees so that they can achieve the necessary social distancing and be safe.”
ICE said it does not comment on litigation.
The ACLU said immigrants at both facilities generally sleep in packed dormitory rooms on bunk beds bolted to the floor only a few feet from each other. They also use shared bathrooms and line up to get meals in cafeterias.
“I learned about ‘social distancing’ from watching the news in the detention center,” said Javier Alfaro, a 39-year-old father detained at Mesa Verde. “Even if the authorities had told us about social distancing though, it doesn’t seem like there would be any way to practice social distancing here.”
Detainees at the Mesa Verde center held a hunger strike last week challenging their continued detention in unsafe conditions amid this pandemic. The ACLU said they faced retaliation from detention center authorities who threatened to deny them access to commissary food unless they broke the hunger strike.
A coalition of legal organizations is representing the plaintiffs, including the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, the ACLU Foundations of Northern California and Southern California, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Lakin & Wille LLP, and Cooley LLP.
“Despite consensus among public health experts that these conditions will lead to an outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, ICE has consistently failed to take necessary steps to protect the health of detainees,” said San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju. “We cannot sit and watch our clients suffer in these outrageous conditions–we have to use whatever legal tools we have to protect them.”