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Border & Immigration

Four Immigrant Detainees Released Following Lawsuit Over Coronavirus Concerns

A vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif., June 9, 2017.
Associated Press
A vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif., June 9, 2017.

The San Diego-area chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union Monday celebrated the release of four immigrant detainees it sought to free amid a series of COVID-19 outbreaks at ICE facilities.

All four detainees were released late last week from the Otay Mesa Detention Center and Imperial Regional Detention Facility, according to the ACLU.

"Our plaintiffs' release from custody is a victory for them and their families," said Monika Y. Langarica, immigrants' rights staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

"We urge ICE to continue reducing its population of detained people in accordance with public health' experts' recommendations during this pandemic. ICE detention should never be a death sentence."

There was no immediate response from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to a call placed after the close of regular business hours seeking comment on the ACLU's allegations.

RELATED: 10 Detainees Now Positive For COVID-19 At Otay Mesa Detention Center

The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month seeking the release of the four detainees who had "medical conditions that make them highly vulnerable to serious illness and death if infected with COVID-19," according to the ACLU.

The ACLU Monday sought dismissal of the suit.

According to statistics recently released by ICE, the Otay Mesa facility has the most COVID-19 cases among all ICE facilities in the nation, with 12 confirmed cases at Otay Mesa among 72 cases nationwide.

An employee at Otay Mesa has also tested positive, while no cases among detainees or employees are listed on ICE's website regarding the Imperial Regional Detention Facility.

The plaintiffs in the suit suffer from such medical conditions as leukemia, lung disease, and HIV infection, necessitating their immediate release, according to Edward Sifuentes, senior media & communications strategist with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

The ACLU alleges that sometimes as many as 100 people are housed in close living quarters at these detention centers, with detainees sleeping in bunk beds and sharing many common areas.

Detainees are not provided gloves or masks and detention staff do not consistently wear such protective equipment, Sifuentes said.

"We are thrilled to learn that our clients have been released and will be able to practice social distancing and other safety measures," said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation National Prison Project

"For our clients — in this suit and in similar suits the ACLU has filed around the country — a COVID-19 infection is a death sentence. Public health experts have been clear that immigrant detention centers present a public health risk to the people in detention and the communities that surround them. Many more people must be released to mitigate that risk and truly flatten the curve."