Lawsuit: ICE Must Release Vulnerable Detainees in California Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

On April 7th, 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported that immigration rights advocates in California—including the ACLU and the SPLC—have filed a lawsuit against Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) seeking the immediate release of detainees who are most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 (coronavirus). 

The legal action comes as an increasing number of immigrant detainees have tested positive for COVID-19. In the last two weeks, there have been reports of positive coronavirus tests in ICE facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Florida, Washington, and at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County, California.  

Serious Safety Concerns in California’s Immigration Detention Facilities

In its reporting, the Los Angeles Times highlights the plight of a woman named Agustina Pineda Ortuno. Originally from Mexico, she is a 56-year-old mother of eight. Ms. Pineda Ortuno is being detained at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County. A facility at which she has been stuck for more than eight months. According to a lawsuit filed on her behalf, she has several conditions that make her highly vulnerable to COVID-19—including asthma and hypertension. 

Currently, Ms. Pineda Ortuno is being held in a dormitory with approximately 20 other female detainees. The legal complaint states that a few of these women have already developed a dry cough and other symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19. The lack of available testing makes it impossible for immigrant detainees to all be quickly checked for the coronavirus to confirm who does or does not have the condition. Like many other vulnerable immigrants, her safety is at risk in ICE custody. As she is quoted in the article, “It is impossible for me to practice social distancing where I am.”

ICE Has the Authority to Release Vulnerable Detainees on Humanitarian Grounds

It is important to emphasize that ICE and the federal government already have the tools that they need to take proactive steps to protect the health and safety of vulnerable immigrants. Every vulnerable person could be released almost immediately on humanitarian grounds. As described by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), humanitarian parole is an “extraordinary” measure used in times of “emergency.” 

There is perhaps no bigger and no more obvious emergency than a global health pandemic that has brought much of the nation’s economy to a halt. Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made it clear that social distancing is required to stop the epidemic. Elderly and otherwise vulnerable people have been encouraged to take extreme social distancing measures. However, that is simply not possible in immigration detention facilities. Lives are at stake. 

Speak to Our Immigration Attorney Today

At Goldstein Immigration Lawyers, we are diligent and experienced advocates for immigrants and immigrant families. To arrange a completely confidential initial consultation, please contact our Los Angeles office today. Though our physical office is closed to protect the health and safety of clients and staff members, we are fully operational and can handle your case remotely during the coronavirus outbreak.