The American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project have filed a lawsuit to force ICE officials to release elderly and sick immigrant detainees from a detention center in Seattle to protect them from the spread of coronavirus.
The nine plaintiffs in the lawsuit suffer from chronic health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes.
The CDC states that the eldery and those living with chronic medical conditions are at an increased risk of severe illness if infected by the coronavirus.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Eunice Cho, an ACLU attorney who specializes in detention matters, said. “Immigration detention centers are closed environments, just like the cruise ships, just like the nursing homes that were the site of some of the deadliest exposures to COVID-19.”
The lawsuit was filed after ICE has received numerous calls to reduce its detainee population to lower the risk of the virus spreading inside the detention facilities. Democratic lawmakers, attorneys and advocacy groups have urged ICE to release immigrants with chronic health conditions, pregnant women, elderly detainees and detainees seeking humanitarian protections.
“ICE has the responsibility to protect the safety of all who are in immigration detention. As a first step, it should immediately release our clients who have already been identified by the federal government as being most at risk because of this epidemic,” said Matt Adams, legal director for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which joined the ACLU in the lawsuit. “If it waits to react to worst-case scenarios once they take hold, it will already be too late.”
To address the pandemic, ICE said it has implemented plans to screen new detainees and isolate those with symptoms related to the virus. They have also temporarily suspended visits by family members and friends at detention centers.
“This prevents the spread of the agent to other individuals and the general public. ICE transports individuals with moderate to severe symptoms, or those who require higher levels of care or monitoring, to appropriate hospitals with expertise in high risk care.”
As of Friday, ICE said there were no confirmed cases of the coronavirus amongst its detainees.