Immigration Advocates Call for Detainees’ Release

Advocates fear a COVID-19 outbreak could be coming at the Aurora immigrant detention center

In response to the first confirmed case of COVID-19 at the Aurora immigrant detention facility, legal advocates for those detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement are calling for detainees’ release, in the interest of protecting the detainees and public health.

Westword reported on Wednesday the first positive COVID-19 case for an employee working at the Aurora immigrant detention facility, which was confirmed by two sources inside ICE. The employee in question worked at the facility as recently as last week. However, the employee has not been to work for a week, according to The Denver Post.

Sarah Plastino, an attorney with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, told Law Week with the notice of the  employee’s positive result, the organization fears for the safety and health of all those detained in the Aurora ICE detention center, as well as for the hundreds of workers who come and go from the facility on a daily basis.

“A pandemic of COVID-19 racing through the facility would likely result in the death or serious illness of many immigrants and asylum seekers who should not be detained in the first place,” Plastino told Law Week.

Ten detainees at the Aurora facility were under quarantine last week after exposure to an immigration attorney who had symptoms resembling those of COVID-19.

“The people detained in Aurora are your neighbors,” Plastino said. “They are mothers, fathers, grandparents and young people who have barely turned 18. They are asylum seekers fleeing unimaginable horrors. The only acceptable solution is to immediately move to release all detained people and close the facility to protect detainees and workers alike.”

And Plastino is not alone in her request. In California, multiple civil rights and advocacy groups are working for the release of ICE detainees for a multitude of reasons.

On Wednesday, a group of civil rights legal organizations and pro bono law firm partners filed an emergency application for a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court in California seeking a court order requiring ICE to take immediate steps to protect people in immigration detention facilities from COVID-19. If ICE cannot, or will not, immediately take steps to ensure medically vulnerable people are protected from the virus, the motion argues the court should order ICE to release those individuals in the interest of public health, according to a press release from the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement, Disability Rights Advocates and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The preliminary injunction is requested as part of an existing class action lawsuit, Fraihat v. ICE on behalf of the nearly 40,000 people in ICE detention facilities across the ICE detention system. 

“Based on first-hand observations from attorneys serving clients inside detention centers and direct reports from people who are detained, the current conditions are medically dangerous and fail to meet standard public health recommendations for addressing the pandemic,” the joint release states.

Previously, Vice reported a New Jersey county correctional facility had two inmates test positive for COVID-19 and the jail was under a two-week lockdown. The facility also houses ICE detainees.

Westword also reported that an immigration judge was under quarantine at home with a “suspected” case of the virus. The judge had been working at the immigration court located in Denver.

— Avery Martinez

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