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Lawsuit: ICE Isn’t Protecting Immigrants from Coronavirus at Its Buffalo Detention Center

— May 18, 2020

The Buffalo Federal Detention Center near Batavia, NY, has the highest coronavirus infection rate of any ICE-run facility in the country.

Civil rights activists have filed a lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), claiming its Buffalo Federal Detention Facility has not adequately protected inmates from novel coronavirus.

ABC News reports that the lawsuit was filed Monday by the New York Civil Liberties Union and Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York. The lawsuit—a prospective class action—demands that ICE release or treat detainees who are vulnerable to infection.

Broadly, the complaint alleges that ICE has failed to implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines at the Buffalo facility, which is located in Batavia, New York. And the lawsuit says the results of inadequate prevention measures are already obvious: by the end of April, more than 10% of the detention center’s 319 inmates tested positive for coronavirus.

“Prisons and detention centers are smack in the middle of a vicious cycle involving the spread of the disease,” said Karen Murtagh, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services. “The virus comes from the outside into confined congregate settings where social distancing is impossible. It then spreads like wildfire, infecting both the detained population and staff.”

Jail cell; image by Ichigo121212, via Pixaby, CC0.
Jail cell; image by Ichigo121212, via Pixaby, CC0.

The complaint references a federal court order, made in relation to another lawsuit filed against the Batavia facility. That lawsuit had identified twelve detainees who are medically vulnerable. In response, a judge ordered ICE to take preventative action.

The ruling “led to a host of protective measures being put in place for over a dozen individual petitioners: single-occupancy cells, guaranteed access to things like soap and cleaning supplies, and permission to eat in their cells in order to maintain social distancing.”

Attorneys have since suggested there may be as many as 100 other detainees who need preventative care and advanced protection.

“Our class consists of likely a hundred or more at-risk people in the Batavia facility who are entitled to basic protections from the threat of COVID-19, but ICE refuses to identify them and refuses to release them,” said New York Civil Liberties Union attorney Bobby Hodgson.

Hodgson further stressed ICE’s refusal to cooperate with outside requests for information.

“ICE officials are the only ones who how many medically at-risk people are in their custody, and their decision to continue jailing those people without proper protections creates an unacceptable risk of death and serious illness,” Hodgson said.

The NYCLU, alongside Prisoners Legal Services of New York, says that even though Buffalo has yet to see any prisoner fatalities, it is nonetheless clear that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not handled the situation efficiently or effectively.

“While there are currently no reported deaths from the coronavirus at this time in Batavia, the number of confirmed diagnoses jumped from four on April 9 to 49 as of today, out of approximately 300 people in the facility,” the groups said in a news release. “Batavia contains one of the highest numbers of positive diagnoses in an ICE facility in the nation.”


Civil rights groups sue ICE over Buffalo detention facility

Immigration detainees at Batavia still at risk of Covid-19, lawyers claim

Lawyers for immigrants sue ICE over alleged lack of COVID protections at Batavia center

NYCLU files class-action lawsuit against ICE officials at Batavia detention center

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