ACLU Files Class Action Lawsuit Against ICE to Seek Immediate Release of Immigrants from the Calhoun County Jail to Protect Them From COVID-19

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
April 27, 2020 10:00 am

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DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Immigrants’ Rights Project, and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP filed a class action lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in federal court on behalf of immigrants detained by ICE in the Calhoun County Jail—the largest ICE detention site in Michigan with approximately 130 immigrants detained there—during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. The legal organizations seek the immediate release of people who are in civil detention and, due to age and/or significant medical conditions, are at high risk for serious illness or death in the event of COVID-19 infection. The lawsuit also asks the court to determine how many people can be held in the jail, consistent with social distancing requirements, and order releases unless ICE reduces the jail population to that level.

As there is no vaccine, cure, or effective treatment for COVID-19, the only known way to protect against serious illness or death caused by the novel coronavirus is social distancing coupled with strict hygiene, both of which are virtually impossible in detention settings, including at the Calhoun County Jail. At Calhoun, those detained are held in “pods” containing groups of up to sixty people, who sleep, eat, bathe, and live in closely confined quarters. They share cells or small communal rooms, and a limited number of communal showers, toilets, and telephones, among other items in the facility. People also share tables for meals just arms-length of one another. Some of the people detained also are responsible for distributing food trays to the pods, and do not wear masks or gloves.

Because people detained cannot follow social distancing and proper hygiene, correctional public health experts recommend the immediate release of those who are vulnerable to suffering the most acutely from COVID-19, as well as drastic reductions in the number of people detained.

The legal organizations argue that the continued detention of medically vulnerable immigrants, as well as the continued detention of any immigrant without the ability to social distance, violates their right to due process. The lawsuits include testimony from leading public health and detention experts Dr. Robert Greifinger, Dr. Jonathan Golob, Dr. Homer Venters and Dr. Dora Schriro about the current public health crisis and the danger posed by the continued detention of people, confined in close quarters and unhygienic conditions, who, as a result, face a high risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The ACLU asked for immediate emergency release for six immigrants detained who are at highest risk due to their medical conditions or age, as well for ICE to identify all people detained at Calhoun who are similarly at highest risk. The CDC has identified people as particularly high risk who have blood disorders, chronic kidney disease, chronic liver disease, compromised immune systems, current or recent pregnancy, endocrine disorders, metabolic disorders, heart disease, lung disease, and neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions.

The lawsuit describes the severe medical conditions of the people detained and the dangerous conditions in which they are confined at the Calhoun County Jail. The following is a summary of a few of those cases:

  • Qaid Alhalmi is a 58-year-old citizen of Yemen who has been detained by ICE in Calhoun since September 2019. He suffers from hypertension, and takes daily medication for this condition. He also suffers from type 2 diabetes, and must take insulin daily to control his high blood sugar.
  • Damary Rodriguez Salabarria is a 46-year-old citizen of Cuba. Ms. Rodriguez Salabarria was detained by ICE in McAllen, Texas from August 1, 2019 to August 10, 2019, when she was transferred to Calhoun where she remains. Ms. Rodriguez Salabarria suffers from hypertension, chronic gastritis, and a peptic ulcer, as well as gastroesophageal reflux. She takes daily medication for these conditions. Prior to entering the United States in August 2019, Ms. Rodriguez Salabarria had twice been admitted to intensive care due to acute pancreatitis. She has also undergone both an appendectomy and cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal). Since being detained, Ms. Rodriguez Salabarria has had kidney infections.
  • Emanuel Rosales Borboa is a 35-year-old citizen of Mexico who has been detained by ICE in Calhoun since March 9, 2020. Mr. Rosales Borboa has suffered from asthma for over ten years and uses a prescribed inhaler multiple times per week, as well as Prednisone, an immunosuppressant medication used to treat, among other things, breathing problems.

Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, issued the following statement:

“We are in a race against time to get vulnerable people released from detention before it is too late. Outbreaks of COVID-19 at ICE detention centers have rapidly escalated in the past several weeks. ICE must not risk the health and lives of people in their care, but must drastically reduce the number of people detained, starting with the immediate release of those at greatest risk.”

Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, issued the following statement:

“Civil immigration detention should not be a death sentence. For our clients, it likely will be when — not if — a COVID-19 outbreak occurs in this facility. ICE has a legal and a moral obligation to release our clients so they can practice social distancing along with the rest of the community. If it does not, it will be responsible for lives lost.”

Jeannie Rhee, lead counsel for the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, issued the following statement:

“Many people who are detained at Calhoun County Jail have been in the U.S. for years. Some came to escape the violence of their homeland and for a better life. Now, while waiting for their immigration case to wend its way through the courts, they sit in detention fearing that their dream of becoming a U.S. citizen could end their life. ICE must act now and release medically vulnerable people from detention so that their hope of living, working and being with their families in the U.S does not become a death sentence.”

This release and court filings are here:

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