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ICE sued to release detained immigrants at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19

The lawsuit alleges that conditions inside three Texas detention centers are a breeding ground for the virus.

A 78-year-old permanent resident with hypertension, a 62-year-old asylum seeker with Type 1 diabetes and a 28-year-old asylum seeker with severe asthma are among the people named in a lawsuit against the federal government.

A group of civil rights organizations is suing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release immigrants with health issues at three detention centers in Texas during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s impossible to socially distance at these ICE facilities,” said Efrén C. Olivares, the legal director for the Racial and Economic Justice Program at Texas Civil Rights Project. “By holding our clients at their discretion, ICE is asking for an outbreak that will endanger the lives of the entire community, in areas that are already starting out with fewer health care resources.”

The lawsuit alleges that the conditions inside the detention centers are a breeding ground for COVID-19. Immigrants housed there describe the lax measures to prevent the spread, including crowded housing, not enough soap or hand sanitizer, little medical care, and interacting with guards who aren’t wearing gloves or masks, according to the lawsuit.

“My client is scared. He asks me who would take care of his family and his disabled children if he dies as a result of the coronavirus,” said Carlos Moctezuma Garcia of Garcia & Garcia Attorneys at Law.

Two of the detention centers are in Laredo: Webb County Detention Center and the Rio Grande Detention Center. The other is the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Los Fresnos.

The lawsuit says authorities have failed to take steps to protect detainees from contracting COVID-19, which violates their constitutional rights.

“Our client and other detainees with serious health conditions should not have to risk their lives to seek immigration relief,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American legal Defense and Educational Fund. “Detention centers cannot constitutionally expose the people in their care to grave risk of illness and death.”

Attorneys with MALDEF, the Texas Civil Rights Project, Garcia & Garcia Attorneys at Law and attorney Javier Maldonado filed the suit in the Southern District of Texas in Laredo.

There are 72 people in custody who have tested positive for COVID-19, according to ICE, and another 19 detention staffers.