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“Many Will Die”: Federal Filing Demands Release of Immigrants Confined to Deadly Florida Detention Centers

Groups seek order granting individuals in ICE custody their freedom to comply with CDC guidelines and protect themselves from Covid-19

MIAMI – Today, a coalition of organizations filed a federal class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida Miami Division seeking the immediate release of all individuals in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) across three detention centers in South Florida. 

The complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief and habeas petition challenges the reckless detention of migrants in South Florida as the spread of Covid-19 accelerates in ICE detention centers. The lawsuit was filed by the University of Miami School of Law’s immigration clinic, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Rapid Defense Network, Legal Aid Service of Broward County and the law firm of Prada Urizar, PLLC. 

“I am particularly worried about my own health because my medical condition has worsened since entering ICE custody,” said Juan Carlos Alfaro Garcia, an asylum seeker with asthma currently detained at Krome Detention Center in Miami, Florida, in a declaration filed with the petition. 

“I have not seen any of the guards washing their hands or applying hand sanitizer, nor do we have any hand sanitizing stations for the inmates,” continued Garcia. “I am afraid because there are inmates in my cell area with a cough, fever, goosebumps, but nobody tells the rest of us what’s wrong with them or why they are feeling sick.” 

If released, Garcia would live with his wife in Southwest Florida, where he would be able to practice social distancing, proper hygiene and other measures to protect himself from Covid-19. 

“Now is the time to extend grace and compassion towards our immigrant friends and neighbors,” said Paul R. Chavez, a senior supervising attorney with SPLC. “Covid-19 is spreading rapidly inside detention centers,” continued Chavez. “Our window to avoid total catastrophe and unnecessary loss of life is closing fast.” 

“ICE’s practice of grouping exposed people together maximizes the chances that they will fall ill and that staff, healthcare providers and others who travel in and out of the detention centers will become vectors for the virus in our larger community,” said Rebecca Sharpless, director of UM Law’s immigration clinic. “ICE must stop the practice and release people before a bad situation gets worse.”  

“ICE continues to expose people in its custody – and public health – to a dangerous and totally unnecessary threat by refusing to release civil detainees,” said Gregory Copeland, co-Legal Director of Rapid Defense Network. “The lack of transparency from ICE is a particular concern as the window to protect thousands of people closes.”

“We want to make sure that our clients, and our communities, are as safe as possible,” said Andrea Montavon-McKillip, Supervising Immigration Attorney at Legal Aid Service of Broward County. “The only way to do that is by allowing people to separate and isolate themselves in their individual homes – not continue to trap them in a communal incubator.”

"We are hopeful that this will make a difference because the current atrocities that ICE is creating will go down in history and will forever damage the reputation of our nation," said Mark Prada, who worked on the case with Anthony Dominguez of Prada Urizar, PLLC. “Our primary goal in advocating on behalf of approximately 1,700 immigrant detainees facing the ongoing pandemic is to save lives,” added Dominguez.

ICE has already confirmed one positive Covid-19 case at the Krome Detention Center. However, ICE refuses to disclose how many people they’ve tested. Detained people, their families and advocates continue to report more cases than are being confirmed by the agency.

For weeks, public health experts and doctors have sounded the alarm, warning that a full-blown crisis inside prisons and detention centers is all but inevitable. The appalling conditions inside ICE detention centers create a “tinderbox scenario” for rapid transmission of the virus. Doctors’ declarations submitted with the petition can be viewed here and here

If the order is granted, a strong network of community organizations and loved ones across the state stand ready to mobilize and help transition post-release individuals back into the safety of their homes and communities. 

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Legal Aid Service of Broward County is a nonprofit law firm established in 1973. The mission is to provide high quality free civil legal advice, representation, and education to the poor of Broward County so as to improve the lifestyle and living conditions of the low income community and to encourage self-sufficiency. 

The Immigration Clinic is part of Miami Law’s Clinical Program in which second and third year students represent clients and work on advocacy projects under the supervision of faculty members.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Alabama with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit civil rights organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry, and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. For more information, see www.splcenter.org and follow us on social media: Southern Poverty Law Center on Facebook and @splcenter on Twitter.

Rapid Defense Network provides rapid legal representation on a pro bono basis to immigrants facing unlawful and imminent detention or deportation. By leveraging partnerships with well-resourced leading law firms and law school clinics, mentoring their teams of attorneys on the successful legal techniques pioneered by Rapid Defense Network, they are able to efficiently and relentlessly address the soaring demand for our services.

Prada Urizar, PLLC is dedicated to solving complex and novel immigration issues. They practice before the immigration agencies and the federal courts in order to fully serve their clientele.