The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued for the release of high-risk detainees at two detention centers in California as a rising number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees nationally are testing positive for COVID-19. Lawyers are arguing on the ground of humanitarian rights noting the over-populated facilities and poor health conditions of the detention centers.

ACLU sued for the release of high-risk detainees at the Otay Mesa and Imperial Regional detention facilities on the same day that the first COVID-19 case was confirmed. ACLU has taken similar action against ICE facilities in multiple states across the country regarding concerns about the current health epidemic.

In the lawsuit, lawyers argue that certain detainees at the two detention centers have pre-existing conditions that would heighten the likelihood of severe symptoms. On humanitarian grounds, the lawsuit argues these detainees should be released to protect them from a high likelihood of exposure to the virus. This lawsuit, which was filed Friday, states it is “effectively impossible” for those in ICE facilities to protect themselves from the virus; detainees cannot abide by any safety measures proscribed by health officials. Detainees cannot practice social distancing and do not even have sanitary conditions to be able to maintain proper hygiene and health guides.

A handful of elected officials have called for increased releases, citing the efforts to decongest prisons as a precedent to this action. ICE has the resources to be able to enforce court dates without physically detaining mass numbers of people in the midst of a virus outbreak that prohibits gatherings of ten people or more.

Sources: The San Diego Union-Tribune 4/6/20; Los Angeles Times 4/7/20

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