Civil Rights Groups & Attorneys Press for Release of Detainees Needlessly Put at COVID-19 Risk By ICE

While rest of nation was on lockdown, ICE transported obviously sick detainees cross country, packing them into facilities where the pandemic is rapidly spreading

DALLAS – Attorneys and activists representing 10 ICE detainees at the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, TX filed a petition in federal court last night demanding that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immediately release detainees needlessly put at risk of severe injury or death from COVID-19 due to ICE officials’ careless detention policies. 

In the midst of the worst pandemic in a century, ICE transported a plane of over 80 people, some of whom had already tested positive for COVID-19, to Prairieland without taking the necessary precautions to make sure those people and others who were exposed were safe. These immigrants were flown to Texas from two jails in New York and Pennsylvania.

Detaining people in unsafe conditions puts the lives of those detained and the local community at grave risk. At Prairieland, people sleep on bunk beds on top of one another and large numbers of people share the same bathrooms. These conditions are petri dishes for infection because of the close quarters. Prairieland currently holds nearly 500 people and, as of May 14, ICE had confirmed 45 cases of COVID-19 among the detained population there. 

“Despite repeated warnings from public health experts, ICE refuses to implement the most basic of steps to protect people detained at Prairieland and the result is a dangerous and scary reality for those detained there, those that work there, and the local community. Rather than focusing on ensuring safety and protection of all at Prairieland, ICE has used the pandemic as a justification to interfere with access to counsel, prohibiting those in quarantine from any method of confidential communication with attorneys, while their immigration court cases continue. We implore ICE to recognize the dangers of this pandemic and release people from Prairieland immediately.”– Manoj Govindaiah, Director of Litigation at RAICES

Those detained in the detention center who have not yet contracted the deadly virus are living in constant fear and are not provided with enough soap to stay clean. Detainees are unable to safely social distance. One detained person we spoke with told us detainees have not been given masks and were living in very close quarters with other cellmates.

Our clients at Prairieland are terrified of getting sick and dying of COVID-19. They see dozens of people in quarantine and know one disposable mask won’t protect them,” said Fatma Marouf, Director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at Texas A&M School of Law. “Many of them have lived in this country for decades and have family members who are U.S. citizens. They don’t want to become an invisible statistic.” 

“ICE authorities are constitutionally obligated to take common sense measures to protect the health and lives of people imprisoned in their facilities,” said Scott Rauscher of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law, one of lawyers who filed the petition. “Detention cannot and should not be a death sentence — not for the detainees, not for the people who work in ICE facilities, and not for the people in surrounding communities.”

Nationally 965 ICE detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic, out 1804 detainees tested, according to the latest govt stats. As of May 9, ICE reported nearly 28,000 people in detention. 

RAICES Texas is a nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees. With legal services, social programs, bond assistance, and an advocacy team focused on changing the narrative around immigration in this country, RAICES is operating on the national frontlines of the fight for immigration rights. RAICES envisions a compassionate society where all people have the right to migrate and human rights are guaranteed.

The Texas A&M School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic provides pro bono legal services to immigrants, including deportation defense and federal litigation. 

Loevy & Loevy is one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms and has won more multi-million-dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country.

Copies of last night’s filings can be found here [2].

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