The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Massachusetts, and immigration attorneys today sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on behalf of two immigrants detained in the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in Massachusetts.

The organizations—together with Massachusetts-based attorneys Susan Church of Demissie & Church and Kerry Doyle of Graves & Doyle—are seeking the release of people who are in civil detention and who are at high risk for serious illness or death in the event of COVID-19 infection due to underlying medical conditions. The new habeas petition builds on ACLU lawsuits in Maryland and Washington state.

“Immigrant detention centers are institutions that uniquely heighten the danger of disease transmission,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Public health officials continue to advise that detention centers—as well as jails, prisons, and other similar facilities—must dramatically reduce their population and density for the safety of detained people, staff who work in these facilities, and the communities they live in. ICE has the responsibility to protect the safety of all who are in immigration detention, and must act now.” 

COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and public health experts have repeatedly warned that people detained in immigrant detention are at particularly high risk due to conditions that are often overcrowded and unsanitary. ICE officers have already tested positive for coronavirus in detention facilities in New Jersey and Texas, and ICE yesterday announced the first confirmed case in a person in immigration detention. A Plymouth County Correctional Facility employee tested positive for coronavirus this week. Public health experts warn that it is a matter of when, not if, the virus takes hold in detention centers.

The filing immediately follows a federal judge’s order that ICE release a detained class member in the ACLU’s Calderon v. Wolf class action. Citing the “extraordinary circumstances” of the pandemic as one reason for his order, U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf this afternoon ruled that a man detained in Plymouth County can be reunited with his wife in their home in Massachusetts.