Press Release

Judge Orders ICE to Safeguard Immigrant Detainees From Dangerous Pandemic Conditions

Cooley + coalition succeed in preliminary injunction request over conditions in two detention centers amid COVID-19 spread
June 17, 2020

San Francisco – June 17, 2020 – A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in a class action lawsuit filed by Cooley and a coalition of legal organizations on behalf of immigrants detained by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement challenging fundamentally unsafe conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic at two California detention centers. Partner Martin Schenker leads the Cooley effort.

In the preliminary injunction order, US District Judge Vince Chhabria criticized ICE’s “obstinance” in opposing the release of individuals during the pandemic based on “positions that are downright irrational, not to mention inhumane.”

“ICE’s conduct and attitude towards its detainees at Mesa Verde and Yuba County Jail since the pandemic began have shown beyond doubt that ICE cannot currently be trusted to prevent constitutional violations at these particular facilities without judicial intervention,” the judge added.

Judge Chhabria, who has already issued a series of individual release orders to reduce population levels at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility and the Yuba County Jail, ordered ICE to “at a minimum, lock in place the safety improvements achieved in recent weeks.” The two facilities currently hold 200 people, which is less than half the population at the time the class action was filed on April 20.

“This result represents a major step toward protecting our clients from COVID-19 and shielding the healthcare systems in surrounding communities,” said Schenker. “ICE must not remain indifferent to the health of detainees under its control.”

Previously, Judge Chhabria had granted a temporary restraining order establishing a process to consider the release of the detainees and provisionally certified a class of all detainees held at the facilities. The judge had ordered ICE to provide information to the court about each of the detainees to facilitate considering their release in order to enable social distancing inside the centers. 

As stated in the initial complaint, ICE has failed to take necessary steps to protect the health of detainees, despite broad consensus among public health experts that the conditions in detention facilities will lead to an outbreak of COVID-19.

Cooley is representing the plaintiffs alongside the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, the ACLU Foundations of Northern California and Southern California, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area and law firm Lakin & Wille.

Read the full press release

Read the order

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