In May 2020, the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a class action lawsuit seeking the release of immigrants detained in Unit C-3 of the Plymouth County Correctional Facility (PCCF) due to the risk of contracting COVID-19 in confinement.
COVID-19 is prevalent in jails, prisons, and detention centers across the country; the disease poses a grave risk to inmates, correctional officers, their families, and the surrounding communities. As of late August, over 1,000 incarcerated people and correctional staff in Massachusetts have tested positive for the coronavirus, and ten people are confirmed dead.
According to the complaint, COVID-19 has likewise been detected in the PCCF. Multiple PCCF staff members and prisoners have tested positive for the virus. The PCCF houses numerous civil immigration detainees in close quarters where “physical distancing,” avoiding shared surfaces and objects, and normal hygiene are impossible.
The complaint argues that these conditions violate the petitioners’ constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly, the ACLU seeks the release of its clients so they can safely self-isolate for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June, a federal judge granted the ACLU’s motion for class certification.
Mere hours later, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials informed several detainees in Unit C-3 that they would be transferred to a different facility in Alabama. The ACLU filed an emergency petition to halt a number of these transfers, which the judge granted. ICE later withdrew its plan to transfer the detainees.