Activists want the for-profit Northwest Detention Center, located near Tacoma, WA, to release its most vulnerable migrants ASAP.
With coronavirus rapidly spreading across the United States, a coalition of immigration activists is asking a federal judge to order the release of elderly and sick migrants from a Seattle-area detention center.
According to CBS News, the complaint was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Seattle. Brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, the suit demands the immediate release of nine migrants currently held at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility near Tacoma, Washington.
BuzzFeed News adds that the suit identifies the facility as the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. The jail, says BuzzFeed, is a for-profit prison operated by GEO Group, which contracts with ICE across the country.
The ACLU and NIRP cited guidance issued by the Center for Disease control and Prevention, which has found that coronavirus—often referred to as COVID-19—is especially dangerous to older adults and individuals with pre-existing health conditions, like diabetes or any variety of autoimmune disorders.
Compared to the general population, coronavirus-vulnerable individuals are at a “high risk for severe illness or death.”
Eunice Cho, an ACLU attorney who specializes in immigration detention, told CBS that the disease could be calamitous if it finds its way behind bars.
“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Cho said. “Immigration detention centers are closed environments, just like cruise ships, just like the nursing homes that were the site of some of the deadliest exposures to COVID-19.”
CBS News notes that each of the nine migrants listed as plaintiffs are at elevated risk for contracting and dying from coronavirus. Their ailments range from heart, kidney, and liver diseases to epilepsy and spinal injuries.
One plaintiff, says CBS, is a Jamaican woman with an autoimmune disease; another is a Salvadoran man who can’t move without a wheelchair and requires a catheter and colonoscopy bag.
The ACLU observes that Tacoma—located within the greater Seattle metropolitan area—is within close distance of one of the most severe COVID-19 outbreaks in the country. At least thirty-seven people have died in Seattle’s King County, with 25 fatalities linked to a single nursing home in nearby Kirkland.
Cho told CBS that conditions in detention centers are even more conducive to disease than nursing homes.
“The only known way to prevent transmission of COVID-19, to protect people who are most vulnerable in our society, is to employ social distancing and hygiene practices,” Cho said. “Those two strategies are virtually unavailable to our plaintiffs.”
Matt Adams, the legal director for NIRP, said at-risk inmates must be released immediately.
“ICE has the responsibility to protect the safety of all who are in immigration detention. As a first step, it should immediately release our clients who have already been identified by the federal government as being most at risk because of this epidemic,” Adams said. “If it waits to react to worst-case scenarios once they take hold, it will already be too late.”