HOUSTON – The ACLU of Texas, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, and the national ACLU today sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and DHS officials on behalf of four immigrants detained in Conroe, Texas at the Montgomery Processing Center (MPC). The lawsuit demands that ICE comply with the Fifth Amendment and release the plaintiffs, all of whom are highly vulnerable to serious illness and death from the COVID-19 global pandemic. The suit follows news of an employee at the center who tested positive for the virus on March 23.
“Detaining our vulnerable clients where they are at a heightened risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and suffering harm and likely even death is a clear violation of their constitutional rights,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “Detention centers like the Montgomery Processing Center cannot adequately protect the lives of those like our clients: There is no way to practice social distancing in a detention center, and they do not have access to face masks or even regular access to basic hygiene. Limiting the number of people held in jails is critical to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak at MPC and the surrounding community.”
“This suit, at its core, seeks to prevent individuals from continued exposure to unsafe and dangerous health conditions,” said Paul Genender, partner and head of litigation of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP’s Dallas office. “These are the same rights that we should expect every human being to enjoy.”
All plaintiffs are at significantly elevated risk of becoming seriously ill or dying if they contract COVID-19:
- R.V.B, a 58 year old, has been detained by ICE at the Montgomery Processing Center since February 2020. He suffers from diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, and low blood oxygen levels. He is also at high risk of blood clots and takes blood thinners on a daily basis. While at the Montgomery Processing Center, he became seriously ill and was taken to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He remains weak and continues to feel unwell.
- G.R, a 28 year old who has lived in the Houston area since she was three years old, has been detained by ICE at the Montgomery Processing Center since November 2019. She has a history of smoking cigarettes for more than seven years and a high body mass index, which exceeds the CDC’s threshold of 40 for elevated risk for COVID-19.
- L.A.P.A, a 34 year old who has been detained by ICE at the Montgomery Processing Center since March 21, 2020. He suffers from chronic respiratory illness, as he has underdeveloped lungs due to a premature birth. He has contracted the flu every winter for the past 10 years, in one instance becoming bedridden for weeks.
- B.J, a 37 year old who has been detained by ICE at the Montgomery Processing Center since August 2019. He suffers from high blood pressure and has difficulty breathing, chest pain and shortness of breath.
All of these people are detained because they are fighting an immigration case. This lawsuit joins 10 others filed by the ACLU across the nation. Most courts have issued rulings saying that ICE must release vulnerable civil detainees, because they cannot be subject to detention conditions as the threat of novel coronavirus exists.
“We have now filed suits like this around the country because public health officials have been clear: Detention facilities are disaster zones for the spread of coronavirus, and our clients’ lives are gravely at risk,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “This is a matter of urgent health and safety for people in civil detention, as well as the staff who work in these facilities every day and the communities they go home to. Flattening the curve and avoiding worst case health outcomes for everyone involves dramatically reducing the number of people in ICE detention so they can practice social distancing at home. For our clients, their lives depend on it.”