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

Washington, D.C. – 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 from immigration detention in Essex County Correctional Facility and Elizabeth Detention Center.

“There are almost 40,000 people in immigration detention and all of them are at risk as long as they are detained,” said Hardy Vieux, vice president, legal, at Human Rights First. “The lawsuit we are filing today is a response to the lack of action on behalf of ICE and the Trump Administration. If the government will not take steps to protect the lives of these immigrants, we will.”

Human Rights First has, in recent weeks, urged state and local governments, including Gov. Murphy of New Jersey, 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 detainees have already tested positive for COVID-19.

The suit was filed with co-counsel from Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, on behalf of ten plaintiffs detained at the Essex County Correctional Facility and the Elizabeth Detention Center. These plaintiffs suffer from underlying medical conditions, including hypertension and chronic respiratory conditions, which place them at advanced risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19. At least one detainee at the Essex County Jail has already tested positive for COVID-19, as did an employee of the medical unit at the Elizabeth Detention Center. These facilities are located in areas that already have more than 3,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection.

Dr. Allen Keller, Associate Professor of Medicine and Population Health at New York University School and Director of the NYU Center for Health and Human Rights testified as a medical expert in the filing.

“The risk of COVID-19 infection and spread in Essex County Correctional Facility and Elizabeth Detention Center is enormous,” said Dr. Keller. “In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conditions of confinement at Essex County Correctional Facility and Elizabeth Detention Center are unsafe, inhumane and pose a danger to detained immigrants and the surrounding communities. Continued detention is not only cruel but poses serious risk and danger to detainees’ health and well-being. In my judgment, it is medically essential that immigrant detainees, particularly those suffering from medical problems, be released immediately.”

Dr. Dora Schriro, formerly the founding director of the ICE Office of Detention Policy and Planning, also testified as an expert in the case. Dr. Schriro urged that “the government should release as many of these vulnerable individuals as possible, as quickly as possible, with only those conditions that are necessary to ensure participation in court proceedings.”

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

Please click here for a link to the petition: Human Rights First Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus 


Published on April 6, 2020


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