38,000 undocumented detainees are held at ICE detainment centers across the country. Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Wikimedia Commons.

A new lawsuit is demanding that high-risk and elderly undocumented immigrants be released from detainment centers as coronavirus spreads. Research showing that at-risk and older populations are more susceptible to contracting coronavirus has prompted the medical community and civil rights advocates to call for immigration authorities to act. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an effort to release vulnerable detainees being held at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center in Washington State.

The ICE detention center is located near King County, where some of the first coronavirus related deaths in the country were reported

Following nine deaths at ICE detention centers since October, immigration advocates are concerned over detainee safety. “People have died at these detention centers,” Eva Bitrán, staff attorney at ACLU Southern California, said. “We hope that in a time of pandemic, ICE takes precautions on the front end to make sure people are out of their custody and able to get medical care.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning older adults and persons with heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes to take extra precautions against coronavirus as they are considered high risk.

In an open letter to ICE, over 3,000 medical professionals are now calling on the federal agency to release its at-risk detainee population.

The doctors cite unsanitary conditions such as “lack of adequate access to hygienic materials such as soap and water or hand sanitizers, poor nutrition, and failure to adhere to recognized standards for prevention” at detainment sites as potential coronavirus proliferators.

As federal guidelines encourage nonessential workers to stay home and to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people, the lawsuit’s trajectory remains uncertain.

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Herbert Norat (he/him/his) is a contributing writer for Pulso. A Bronx-born writer of Puerto Rican and Nicaraguan descent, he owns a small business, works as a library researcher, and writes for Bronx Narratives and The New York Public Library. Herbert lives with his fiance and daughter in the Bronx.