Lawsuit Brought by Human Rights First Leads to Release of 7 Immigrants in New Jersey

New York –  A federal judge in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ordered the release of five immigrants from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, in response to a lawsuit filed by Human Rights First and the law firm of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, citing the individuals’ vulnerability to COVID-19. Two additional plaintiffs were released April 10 after the lawsuit was filed. The court has not yet ruled on the petition for the three other plaintiffs named in the lawsuit.

“We are relieved that a federal court released our clients, who are at high risk of complications from the coronavirus,” said Anwen Hughes of Human Rights First. “It is frustrating that a federal lawsuit is necessary to protect immigrants in detention and the health of people in the New Jersey communities where ICE detention centers exist. We are glad the courts have acted, but it does not change the fact that the federal and state governments have yet to take any meaningful action to release all eligible immigrants from ICE detention in this public health crisis.

“We are glad that some of our clients are no longer detained. They can now take better care of themselves and do what they can to minimize the risks to themselves and the public, which they could not do while detained. We will continue to work to secure the release of our remaining clients. It shouldn’t take individual lawsuits for the government to do the right thing.”

Human Rights First filed this lawsuit on April 6 in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, with co-counsel from Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, on behalf of ten plaintiffs detained at the Essex County Correctional Facility and the Elizabeth Detention Center. These individuals suffer from underlying medical conditions, including hypertension and chronic respiratory conditions, which place them at enhanced risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19. At least two immigration detainees at the Essex County Jail have tested positive for COVID-19, as have seven immigration detainees, an employee of the medical unit and another ICE employee at the Elizabeth Detention Center. These facilities are located in areas that already have over 9,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection respectively.

Human Rights First filed a similar suit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California – with co-counsel from Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP -on behalf of four female plaintiffs detained at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center. All four of our Adelanto clients were ordered released.

Human Rights First has, for well over a month, and in coordination with other groups including Physicians for Human Rights, urged Gov. Murphy of New Jersey, to compel ICE to release those held in immigration detention in his state. But Gov. Murphy has failed to listen to medical experts and human rights advocates and 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. Earlier this week Human Rights First endorsed federal legislation co-sponsored by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Washington Rep. Pramila Jaypal that would direct Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to move immigrants out of crowded detention centers and halt immigration enforcement during the coronavirus emergency.


Published on April 18, 2020


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