Posted on March 27, 2020

Detained Immigrants Sue ICE, Say They Can’t Social Distance in Jail and Fear Severe Coronavirus Illness

Lauren Hernández, San Francisco Chronicle, March 24, 2020

Thirteen immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at two California facilities — including a Northern California jail — filed a lawsuit in federal district court Tuesday demanding to be released because they say their health conditions make them vulnerable to dying if they get infected with the coronavirus.

The detainees are “confined in crowded and unsanitary conditions where social distancing is not possible” at Yuba County Jail in Marysville and Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield (Kern County), the ACLU said Tuesday.

The lawsuit cites guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that identify older adults and people with chronic and underlying health conditions as being at higher risk of severe illness if they are infected by the coronavirus, which has infected 2,628 people in California, including 1,023 in the Bay Area. {snip}

Sofia Bahena Ortuno, 64, had been detained in Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield since getting arrested by ICE during a traffic stop in October. She said in a statement released by the ACLU of Northern California that she has hypothyroidism and diabetes. She was released Tuesday, two hours before the lawsuit was filed, ACLU officials said.


“I have seen some of the officers at the Mesa Verde detention center coughing and not wearing masks,” Bahena said before getting released. “They also keep coming to work. I am worried how this will affect me.”


The lawsuit describes the medical ailments that each of the people have, ranging from diabetes, severe asthma, severe anemia, neurological illness, high blood pressure and hypertension.

It alleges that it is “effectively impossible” to practice social distancing in their holding cells or to maintain the proper hygiene that is required to lessen the risk of transmission of the new coronavirus. {snip}