Willkie Joins Civil Rights Organizations Seeking Emergency Court Ruling for Immediate COVID-19 Protections for People in Immigration Detention Centers

March 25, 2020

The motion immediately follows ICE’s own admission of the first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 of a person in ICE detention.

On March 25, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, along with Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Disability Rights Advocates, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Orrick, filed an emergency application for a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California seeking a court order requiring that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) take immediate steps to protect people in immigration detention facilities from COVID-19, particularly those at heightened risk. The motion immediately follows ICE’s own admission of the first confirmed positive case of COVID-19 of a person in ICE detention.

The motion argues that if ICE cannot or will not immediately take steps to ensure that medically vulnerable people are protected from COVID-19 – including providing timely access to qualified and necessary healthcare – then the Court should order ICE to release those individuals in the interest of public health. The preliminary injunction is being requested as part of an existing class action lawsuit, Fraihat v. ICE, on behalf of the nearly 40,000 people held in ICE detention facilities throughout ICE’s 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.

According to the court filing, ICE has not provided even the most basic public health protections inside detention centers. Its failure to take preventative measures – like reducing crowding to implement social distancing or providing soap and hand sanitizer – places individuals with underlying conditions including heart conditions, diabetes, and other serious health conditions in imminent danger of infection and death. Current ICE protocols do not even consider trying to identify high-risk individuals, much less take the significant steps necessary to reduce the risk of contagion, illness, serious complications, and death.

The threat of COVID-19 compounds the existing inhumane conditions in detention centers already highlighted in the lawsuit. In several instances, detention centers have not provided any information about COVID-19 to detained people, meaning they do not know the symptoms or how to even try to protect themselves from infection.

If the preliminary injunction is granted, ICE would be required to immediately assess medically vulnerable people for COVID-19 risk factors and either immediately implement medically necessary precautions consistent with standards of care, or release them. Additionally, ICE would immediately be required to provide basic protections such as providing ample soap and hand sanitizer, protocols for transporting people to the hospital, and appropriately testing and treating anyone with COVID-19 symptoms. The motion seeks the release of those in detention if ICE cannot take medically necessary precautions. Statements outlining observations from immigration detention facilities across the country are available HERE and the motion can be viewed HERE.

The organizations filing for the preliminary injunction and litigating Fraihat v. ICE are Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, Disability Rights Advocates, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Law firms Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP and Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP are serving as pro bono co-counsel.

Partner Michael Johnson led the pro bono Willkie team, which also included associates Dania Bardavid, Leigh Coutoumanos, Joseph Bretschneider, Jessica Blanton, and Timothy Ryan.