Human Rights First Sues for Release for Immigrants in CA, Asks Federal Court to Protect Clients from Coronavirus Outbreak

Los Angeles, CA – As the Department of Homeland Security continues to ignore calls to release immigrants from detention, Human Rights First today filed a federal lawsuit aimed at securing the release of migrant detainees vulnerable to COVID-19 infection in Adelanto ICE Processing Center.

“Unable to engage in social distancing and left with inadequate access to sanitation and medical care, the almost 40,000 people held in civil immigration detention are at high risk of contracting this virus,” said Hardy Vieux, vice president, legal, at Human Rights First. “The solution is for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Trump administration to do everything possible to fast-track the release of all detainees eligible for release, end in-person hearings, and expedite telephonic hearings. So far we’ve seen no action toward these solutions, so we are asking the court to act to protect our clients and the public health.”

Human Rights First has, in recent weeks, urged state and local governments, including Gov. Newsom of California, to release those held in ICE custody. But ICE continues to detain vulnerable individuals in conditions ripe for the spread of disease, even in detention centers where staff and/or other detainees have already tested positive for COVID-19.

The suit was filed with co-counsel from Morgan Lewis & Bockius in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, on behalf of four female plaintiffs detained at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center. Adelanto, one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country, currently detains almost 2,000 women and men and has been the subject of numerous DHS Office of Inspector General reports highlighting subpar conditions and care.

“If the Department of Homeland Security does not act immediately to reduce its immigration detention population, COVID-19 is likely going to spread rapidly throughout its immigration detention centers, overburdening the detention center medical care program and surrounding community hospitals, resulting in likely deaths,” testified Dr. Craig Haney in support of the plaintiff’s request for release. Dr. Haney is an expert on immigration detention who has provided expert consultation to federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and Homeland Security. 

One of Human Rights First’s clients, Elvira, is a 26-year-old woman seeking asylum from Cameroon who has a history of asthma and immediate relatives in the United States who could house her if she were to be released from detention. A medical expert in the filing, Dr. Parveen Parmar, who works at the Los Angeles County and the University of Southern California Emergency Department, testified in the filing to Elvira’s vulnerability to COVID-19, stating, “It is those with respiratory conditions who do worst.”

Wendy, another plaintiff is a 49-year-old woman originally from Honduras with significant disability, whose pain and chronic conditions, to date, have not been adequately addressed in detention at Adelanto. Wendy is wheel-chair bound and reliant on other detained women to assist her to survive day-to-day in the detention center.

Another plaintiff, Agustina, is a 56-year-old woman, originally from Mexico and has multiple medical problems, including asthma, high blood pressure, and a history of abnormal liver function tests. She states she has sought medical attention for a cough and sore throat and was told to “gargle saltwater.” Dr. Parmar believes her symptoms are consistent with infection with COVID-19 and, according to ICE protocol, these symptoms mandate isolation and testing. She, however, remains in a dormitory with at least 20 women in Adelanto, many of whom are also reportedly coughing.

“As a physician who has reviewed thousands of pages of health care provided to dozens of individuals in detention, including to many individuals detained at Adelanto, I am deeply skeptical that the existing health system can identify and appropriately treat COVID-19,” said Dr. Parmar. “The combination of crowding, inadequate access to hygiene, as well as substandard medical care in ICE detention facilities, and specifically in Adelanto, put these four women at risk of significant morbidity and mortality resulting from infection with COVID-19. I recommend their release.”

Human Rights First has documented the detrimental impact of detention on immigrants in California. Immigrants in detention suffer grave psychological and physical health consequences and often lack access to counsel and due process.

Click here for a copy of the: Petition for Writ of Habeus Corpus

Click here for a copy of the: Temporary Restraining Order


Published on April 4, 2020


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