Valerie Ibarra, Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org, (628) 249-7946
SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge has ordered the release of four immigrants detained in two ICE detention centers in California on the grounds that their age and medical conditions make them especially vulnerable to the potentially fatal COVID-19 infection.
“None of these [individuals] is in a position to meaningfully limit his exposure to COVID-19 while at Yuba or Mesa Verde,” Judge Chesney affirmed in a ruling Wednesday.
The judge’s decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU Foundations of Northern California and Southern California, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, and Lakin & Wille LLP.
“Immigration detention is unnecessary generally, but now with COVID it is putting people at risk,” said Shelly Clements, the wife of Charles Joseph, one of the plaintiffs ordered released. “I feel blessed that my husband is coming home.”
Collectively the four plaintiffs suffer from a range of serious medical conditions, which the CDC has identified as placing people at a particularly high risk of contracting this highly contagious disease.
Salmon Medina Calderon has been diagnosed with diabetes. He has lost all of the vision in one eye and 70 percent in the other. Gennady V. Lavrus also has diabetes that requires insulin injections. Charles Joseph suffers from severe asthma. J. Elias Solario Lopez, 82, has a history of hypertension and kidney disease.
“This decision is an important step,” said William Freeman, senior counsel at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “The stakes for the release of detained persons are at an all-time high as the threat of the COVID-19 outbreak places them at an elevated risk of serious ailments or death.”
San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju said that the judge recognized that releasing vulnerable immigrants because of the COVID pandemic is urgent, constitutionally mandated, and in the interest of public health. “Immigrants in ICE detention centers should be released immediately,” Raju said. “It is unfortunate we had to resort to the courts for this relief, ICE should be doing this on its own.”
“ICE’s abysmal response to COVID-19—including its intransigent refusal to heed public health experts and release as many detainees as necessary—violates the Constitution,” said Jordan Wells, an attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “Worse, it risks human life and threatens to exacerbate the pandemic. We are relieved for those who the Court ordered ICE to release. And we will continue fighting for everyone unsafely languishing in ICE prisons.”
Bree Bernwanger, senior staff attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, issued the following statement: “Our brave clients have shown that while the rest of world takes unprecedented safety measures in the face of a global pandemic, ICE has endangered their lives by continuing business as usual. But in this decision, the Court recognized that no immigration policy is more important than protecting human life.”
Judah Lakin of Lakin &Wille, issued the following statement: “ICE’s refusal to change its policies and practices during this pandemic is not only disheartening, but clearly unconstitutional. We will continue to fight not only for the remaining plaintiffs in our lawsuit, but the greater incarcerated population at large.”
A copy of the ruling is available here.