Civil groups filed a class action lawsuit against the US immigration authorities on Monday. seeking the “immediate release” of some 1,700 detainees in three Florida centers, considering them at risk of contracting COVID-19 in the absence of distance and hygiene conditions.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), one of the plaintiffs, detailed that the legal process was presented on behalf of some thirty immigrants against the Krome, Broward and Glades detention centers, all in the South Florida region, where the majority of cases and deaths from the new coronavirus are concentrated in the state.
“Our window to avoid a total catastrophe and unnecessary loss of life is closing fast,” said Paul R. Chávez, an attorney for SPLC.
“COVID-19 is rapidly spreading within detention centers,” said Chávez.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (ICE) “continues to expose people in their custody, and public health, to a dangerous and totally unnecessary threat by refusing to release civilian detainees,” he said. Gregory Copeland, legal co-director of the Rapid Defense Network, another of the plaintiffs.
The complaint seeks to allow these immigrants to comply with the protocols of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). to avoid the spread of the new coronavirus.
In Florida, more than 20,600 people have been infected with the new coronavirus and 470 have died, especially in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties in the southeastern state.
“My medical condition has worsened since I entered ICE custody,” said Juan Carlos Alfaro, an asylum seeker with asthma currently detained in Krome, according to the complaint.
“I have not seen any of the guards wash their hands or apply hand sanitizer, nor do we have hand sanitization stations for inmates,” Alfaro said.
ICE has already confirmed two positive cases of COVID-19 at Krome, but the complaining coalition criticized the federal agency for refusing to reveal how many people it has tested.
The plaintiff groups fear that there will be more cases, judging by versions of the detainees, their families and their lawyers.
“ICE must release these people before this bad situation worsens,” said Rebecca Sharpless, director of the University of Miami (UM) Immigration Clinic, another of the plaintiffs.
“Grouping exposed people together maximizes the chances that they will become ill and that staff, health care providers and others who move in and out of detention centers will become vectors of the virus,” said Sharpless.
The Broward County Legal Aid Service and the Prada Urizar law firm are also part of the lawsuit, filed in a Southern District of Florida court.
“Our primary objective in advocating on behalf of approximately 1,700 detained immigrants facing the ongoing pandemic is to save lives,” added Anthony Domínguez, attorney for Prada Urizar.