ACLU Sues on Behalf of Medically Vulnerable People Denied COVID-19 Booster Shots in Immigration Detention

January 31, 2022 11:45 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of the District of Columbia today filed a lawsuit on behalf of five medically vulnerable people detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who have requested and been denied COVID-19 vaccine booster shots. The lawsuit demands that the plaintiffs, who have been diagnosed with medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and tuberculosis and who are vulnerable to severe illness and death in the event of infection, be given booster shots.

“As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly in ICE detention centers, immigrants detained in these facilities are increasingly afraid for their health and lives,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “ICE is well aware that people with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable to severe illness and death and booster shots are a critically important protection for them against the virus. Failing to provide booster shots is not only irresponsible and cruel, it’s also a violation of their constitutional rights.”

Since March 2020, COVID-19 has posed an unprecedented threat to the people locked in ICE detention facilities, where they are routinely denied access to timely and adequate medical care and forced to live in crowded housing units. The threat to people detained in ICE detention facilities continues to grow as new variants emerge.

Since Jan. 3, 2022, COVID-19 infections have increased by more than 940 percent in detention centers. Yet according to the most recently available data, ICE has administered booster shots to only 671 of the approximately 22,000 people detained in ICE custody nationwide each day. Based on ICE’s most recent numbers, approximately 14 percent of people in ICE detention have currently tested positive for COVID-19. ICE does not have policies or procedures to ensure that eligible people held in its over 200 detention facilities are identified or are provided a booster shot.

“Booster shots are readily available everywhere in the country,” said Arthur B. Spitzer, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia. “ICE’s failure to provide them to detainees reflects a truly callous disregard for the health and safety of the people in its care.”

The lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Attorneys litigating the case include Eunice Cho, Patrick Taurel, and Aditi Shah of the ACLU National Prison Project; Michael Tan and My Khanh Ngo of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; and Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU of the District of Columbia.

The complaint is online here:

Temporary restraining order is here:

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