COVID-19 Special Coverage
ACLU pushes for protection of inmates and at-risk immigrants amid coronavirus outbreak
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ACLU pushes for protection of inmates and at-risk immigrants amid coronavirus outbreak

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called Tuesday for better protections against the novel coronavirus by filing a lawsuit against US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the immediate release of at-risk immigrant detainees and filing an emergency petition in Massachusetts to reduce the number of people incarcerated.

The lawsuit against ICE was filed on behalf of 13 immigrants that are currently detained in California detention centers. The suit calls for the immediate release of these immigrants due to their “advanced age and underlying medical conditions” that make them “especially vulnerable to the potentially fatal COVID-19 infection while they are confined in crowded and unsanitary conditions where social distancing is not possible.” The plaintiffs suffer from conditions such as diabetes, severe asthma, high blood pressure, gout, hypothyroidism, severe anemia and more.

The complaint argues that the inherently communal living required of immigrants in detention makes it impossible for proper social distancing measures. It also references a recommendation from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties calling for consideration of releasing detainees that are not posing an immediate threat to public safety.

The ACLU has filed similar suits in the last week in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Washington state.

In regard to the emergency petition filed in Massachusetts, it was filed to the Chief Justice of the Trial Court requesting relief to protect corrections staff, incarcerated individuals and others in the community exposed to these populations. The petition specifically requests a reduction of people currently in Massachusetts jails and prisons, and a reduction of those who will enter these facilities.

The ACLU cited confirmed cases of COVID-19 in three prisoners and an officer this past weekend and noted that physical distancing and vigilant hygiene “can be petri dishes for the rapid spread of infectious disease.” The ACLU’s petition also notes that at least eight other state and local court systems are currently working to minimize incarceration during this outbreak. It argues that maintaining traditional practices at this time “subjects [people] to a serious risk of loss of life or permanent injury” that therefore “implicate[s] substantive and procedural due process concerns.”

Under the ACLU’s petition, the court would vacate bench warrants and cease to issue any new ones. The court would also vacate probation orders, suspend pretrial conditions and probation, and immediately release particularly at-risk populations and those being held over bail issues.

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