The American Civil Liberties Union sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Monday, demanding that certain immigrants be released from custody over the coronavirus concerns.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, expresses concerns that immigrants detained in Tacoma, Washington, at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center are especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 after Washington state experienced the first outbreak of the rapidly spreading disease in the U.S.
The ACLU is seeking "the release of people who are in civil detention and are at high risk for serious illness or death in the event of COVID-19 infection," the organization said in a statement.
"The determination is based on the age of detainees, as well as their underlying medical conditions, which public health experts have indicated will increase the risk of serious COVID-19 infection," the ACLU said.
ACLU senior attorney Eunice Cho said:
Immigrant detention centers are institutions that uniquely heighten the danger of disease transmission. In normal circumstances, ICE has proven time and again that it is unable to protect the health and safety of detained people. These are not normal circumstances, and the heightened risk of serious harm to people in detention from COVID-19 is clear.
Public health experts have warned that failing to reduce the number of people detained — and in particular, failing to release those particularly vulnerable to the disease — endangers the lives of everyone in the detention facility, including staff, and the broader community.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit alongside the ACLU of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) revealed over the weekend that she and a handful of her Democratic colleagues have been lobbying the Bureau of Prisons to similarly release people who are vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
Michael Cohen, the former personal lawyer to President Donald Trump who is currently in prison for fraud and perjury, is also advocating that Trump release nonviolent offenders to prevent COVID-19 spread in prisons.