Josh Gerstein, Politico, March 22, 2020
A new lawsuit argues that immigrant families being held under the Trump administration’s family detention policy should be released immediately because they are at grave risk of contracting the coronavirus due to conditions in those facilities.
Lawyers filed suit in federal court in Washington on Saturday on behalf of more than three dozen families held at a trio of detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania.
Advocates say the communal housing arrangements, limited cleaning supplies and the regular influx of new families make the centers a potential hotbed for Covid-19 infection and defy guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control discouraging any gathering of more than 10 people.
“Detained mothers, fathers and children are forced to live and sleep in close quarters and required to congregate and as a result, cannot achieve the ‘social distancing’ needed to effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19,” according to the suit, filed by immigration lawyers in New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. “Even in their beds they cannot even sleep or receive the required distance necessary to protect themselves.”
Attorneys for the detained families alleged that the current conditions violate the Constitution, as well as a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores agreement, which requires a safe environment for minors in immigration custody.
Lawyers asked the court on Saturday for an emergency hearing and temporary restraining order requiring release of their clients.
The suit over detained families was filed by three legal groups that provide assistance to those immigrants: ALDEA — the People’s Justice Center in Reading, Pa., the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services in San Antonio, Texas, and the Rapid Defense Network in New York.
The case was not immediately assigned to a judge, a step that would typically happen on Monday for cases filed over the weekend. The request for an emergency hearing and restraining order is likely to be directed to the emergency duty judge for U.S. District Court in Washington this weekend: Ketanji Brown Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama.