ACLU Sues ICE to Obtain Nationwide Policies on Antiviral Medications in Immigration Detention

April 13, 2023 6:40 pm

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SAN FRANCISCO — The American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, and Goodwin today filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for failing to turn over documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), regarding the provision of COVID-19 antiviral treatments in ICE detention.

The ACLU first requested the documents, including information on the type of antiviral drugs and number of treatments prescribed and provided to people detained, by facility and date, on Jan. 5, 2023, but both federal agencies have yet to produce any documents.

Recent studies and clinical trials show antiviral medications, such as Paxlovid, are among the most effective and easily administered treatments to prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19. Yet, ICE’s most recent guidelines for the management of COVID-19, released on Nov. 1, 2022, do not include any requirements for facilities to obtain or provide COVID-19 antiviral medications for people held in detention. Instead, the policy only recommends that facilities be assessed for treatment with monoclonal antibody therapy, which is no longer authorized by the FDA.

“Medical advances like Paxlovid have allowed most of us to enter a new stage of the pandemic where we know that if we get sick, we at least have access to treatments that dramatically reduce the risk of serious illness and death,” said Kyle Virgien, senior staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “People in ICE detention can’t rest as easily as the rest of us because they’re being unnecessarily denied these medications. In effect, ICE has turned back the clock to 2020 for people in detention, leaving them at serious risk.”

Since February 2020, ICE has reported that over 52,000 people detained in its custody have tested positive for COVID-19. Infection rates in ICE detention facilities have reached as high as 20 times greater than in the general public.

“ICE must turn over all records related to antiviral medications without delay,” said Linnea P. Cipriano, co-counsel in the lawsuit and partner at Goodwin. “By all indications, facilities are knowingly failing to provide medications that could save lives. The public has a right to know if that’s the case and to demand change.”

The ACLU legal complaint, filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asks that DHS and ICE be required to immediately process and disclose, in their entirety, unredacted versions of all records responsive to the FOIA request.




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