Willkie Helps Detained Migrants Win in Federal Court as Judge Greenlights Nationwide Class Action Lawsuit

April 17, 2020

Willkie joins civil rights organizations in representing thousands of immigrants denied medical care and disability accommodations by the federal government.

On April 16, U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal ruled that a nationwide class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can proceed, greenlighting a challenge to ICE’s system-wide failure to provide standard medical and mental health care and disability accommodations for people in its custody.

According to the lawsuit, ICE has failed to provide detained migrants in over 150 facilities nationwide with safe and humane conditions, as required by agency standards, federal law and the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs seek zero monetary damages and instead only an end to the inhumane and traumatic experience of ICE detention affecting tens of thousands across the country.

The ruling comes amid the spread of Covid-19 in detention centers, a dangerous scenario that doctors and public health experts across the country have warned will only be made worse by ICE’s lack of pre-existing medical care and substandard detention center conditions. On March 25, the groups filed an emergency preliminary injunction motion in the case requiring ICE to immediately fix numerous deficiencies in its Covid-19 response, such as inadequate staffing, resources and oversight. The motion further seeks the immediate release of medically vulnerable people if ICE cannot or will not take immediate steps to protect those who are in its custody. Judge Bernal has yet to rule on that injunction.

Judge Bernal denied the government’s motion to divide the nationwide lawsuit into 15 individual cases in eight district courts. He also denied ICE’s motion to strike the 200-page complaint, which was filed in the U.S District Court for the Central District of California in August 2019.

See the complaint here and all other filings in the case here.

The organizations representing the plaintiffs in 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.