March 16, 2020

SEATTLE — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Washington, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement today on behalf of immigrants detained at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. The legal organizations seek the release of people who are in civil detention and are at high risk for serious illness or death in the event of COVID-19 infection. The determination is based on the age of detainees, as well as their underlying medical conditions, which public health experts have indicated will increase the risk of serious COVID-19 infection.

The filing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington includes testimony from leading public health experts Dr. Marc Stern, Dr. Robert Greifinger, and Dr. Jonathan Golob about the public health crisis caused by COVID-19, and the danger posed by the continued detention of people at high risk of illness or death from COVID-19. Tacoma, Washington is just outside Seattle, and the metropolitan area is the epicenter of the first and largest COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. 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 ACLU’s National Prison Project and Immigrants’ Rights Project, together with NWIRP, are litigating the case.

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

“Immigrant detention centers are institutions that uniquely heighten the danger of disease transmission. In normal circumstances, ICE has proven time and again that it is unable to protect the health and safety of detained people. These are not normal circumstances, and the heightened risk of serious harm to people in detention from COVID-19 is clear. Public health experts have warned that failing to reduce the number of people detained — and in particular, failing to release those particularly vulnerable to the disease — endangers the lives of everyone in the detention facility, including staff, and the broader community.”

Matt Adams, Legal Director for NWIRP, issued the following statement:

“ICE has the responsibility to protect the safety of all who are in immigration detention. As a first step, it should immediately release our clients who have already been identified by the federal government as being most at risk because of this epidemic. If it waits to react to worst case scenarios once they take hold, it will already be too late.”

 

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