Zepeda Rivas v. Jennings (Immigration Detention)
On April 20th, 2020, immigrants detained at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility and the Yuba County Jail filed a class against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), alleging that conditions of confinement at these facilities violated their constitutional rights by exposing them to unreasonable risks of infection and death from COVID-19. The lawsuit argues that in these crowded facilities, it is impossible for those detained to practice social distancing, which public health officials have recommended to prevent the spread of the disease. People in ICE custody are also not given the resources they need to maintain proper hygiene and sanitation, and are not receiving adequate medical care.
The plaintiffs asked the court to order ICE to improve conditions at the facilities to a constitutionally acceptable level, including by releasing detainees to enable social distancing.
In June 2020, the court issued a preliminary injunction that initiated a bail process under which a number of detainees have been temporarily released, and ordered the defendants to provide the plaintiffs with detailed, current information concerning conditions affecting the health and safety of detainees.
Following extensive discovery and a five-day hearing, in December 2020 the court issued a second preliminary injunction that requires the defendants to rigorous distancing, quarantine, intake and testing protocols for the protection of the detainees and staff at Mesa Verde. The effect of these protocols is to significantly limit the number of detainees that defendants can house at Mesa Verde. In issuing these injunctions, the court observed that “ICE cannot currently be trusted to prevent constitutional violations at these particular facilities without judicial intervention.” The court found that the defendants’ conduct was “appalling” and their performance “abominable.” The court also found that defense witnesses “gave false testimony several times in these proceedings, on matters of importance.”
The population of the two facilities, which was more than 400 at the time the suit was filed, now stands at well under 100.
A coalition of legal organizations is representing the plaintiffs, including the ACLU Foundations of Northern California and Southern California, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Lakin & Wille LLP, and Cooley LLP.
The suit is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.