RIVERSIDE (CNS) – A lawsuit filed today in federal court in Riverside on behalf of a half-dozen detainees housed at an ICE processing center seeks their immediate released on grounds that they have medical conditions that could make them vulnerable to illness and possible death if infected with COVID-19.
Because of their acute medical conditions — including HIV infection, congestive heart failure, asthma and diabetes — the plaintiffs are particularly in danger in the Adelanto facility, where as many as 100 detainees share common living quarters with beds only inches apart, according to the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and its Immigrants’ Rights Project and National Prison Project.
ICE’s continued detention clustering of vulnerable individuals under those circumstances creates not only a humanitarian crisis but also a constitutional one, the ACLU alleges.
A representative for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.
The plaintiffs are subject to violations of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments” and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process that prevents the government from exposing civil detainees to risk of serious illness and death, according to the ACLU.
“ICE is risking plaintiffs’ lives by detaining them in a crowded, unhygienic immigration jail in the midst of a global pandemic,” alleged Minju Cho, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “ICE’s actions are especially cruel given that the plaintiffs’ detention for civil immigration violations is totally unnecessary. Proven alternatives to detention would ensure their presence at future immigration hearings while allowing them to stay at home.”
The court filing describes conditions at Adelanto — operated under contract by the private GEO Group Inc. — where detainees allegedly have not been instructed about the need for social distancing, nor been provided with adequate hygiene supplies and clean clothes to ward off the virus in such close quarters. They’ve also not been provided with hand sanitizer, gloves or masks, the suit allege.
The ACLU alleges that detention under such circumstances is not rationally related to the enforcement of immigration laws. Keeping the plaintiffs in Adelanto, which has been criticized by government officials in the past for shoddy medical care and unhygienic conditions, could amount to giving them death sentences, the complaint alleges.
The ACLU seeks the immediate release of the plaintiffs, pointing out that courts across the country, including in California, have issued such orders during the pandemic. The lawsuit also notes that ICE has at its disposal its Intensive Supervision Appearance Program that makes use of electronic monitoring and other means to supervise participants.
A government-contracted evaluation of ISAP reported a 99% attendance rate at all immigration court hearings, according to the filing.
“This is the fifth lawsuit we have filed around the country in the last two weeks,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Public health officials have consistently instructed us all that reducing the number of people held in immigrant detention centers — as well as jails, prisons and other similar facilities — is a critical step to avoiding a humanitarian disaster from COVID-19. ICE must do its part to flatten the curve by releasing people from its custody, starting with the most vulnerable to serious illness or death.”