Implementation of COVID-19 Protocols to be Required at Facilities
Where Nearly 500 People Contracted the Virus
MIAMI – Immigrants held in U.S. custody and their attorneys reached a settlement with the federal government over COVID-19 protocols at three South Florida Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. The agreement presumptively provides for six months’ oversight of ICE's compliance with reduced population requirements, CDC pandemic guidelines, and ICE’s own Pandemic Response Requirements by a federal court.
The settlement also requires ICE to continue to allow for adequate social distancing measures and PPE resources to people in detention, and for the agency to adhere to policies that minimize the number of transfers between different facilities, COVID testing guidelines, and vaccination protocols. The parties also agreed that individual class members held at the three detention facilities can file their habeas petition for release directly with Judge Marcia Cooke, who is overseeing the case.
The trial lawyers from King & Spalding were effusive in their praise for the class members. Katy Lehman, a partner in King & Spalding’s Atlanta office said, “Throughout the case, our clients stood up for their rights by repeatedly coming into court to shine light on the conditions at the facilities. Their powerful testimony is a key reason that we were able to reach this agreement.”
The lawsuit, filed last year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida Miami Division, was litigated by attorneys with the University of Miami School of Law’s immigration clinic, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Rapid Defense Network, Legal Aid Service of Broward County, the law firm of Prada Urizar PLLC, the law firm of King & Spalding and Americans for Immigrant Justice.
“If not for this lawsuit, Judge Cooke’s injunction, and this settlement, people detained by ICE at these jails would be at far greater risk of infection, illness, and death,” said Rebecca Sharpless, Director of Miami Law’s Immigration Clinic. “This lawsuit illustrates why the judiciary must play a critical role limiting executive power.”
"Doctors and public health experts have long warned of the risks of continuing to hold people in congregate settings where it is impossible to fully protect oneself from the virus,” said Paul R. Chavez, senior supervising attorney with the SPLC. “Tragically, ICE facilities have proven to be deadly during the pandemic and the practice of detaining immigrants has contributed to a rise in local COVID-19 cases – an outcome that affects us all, and a clear reminder that all of our health and well-being are interconnected.”
On July 6th, 2021, U.S. Magistrate Jonathan Goodman agreed to unseal the details of the settlement. A Fairness hearing date has yet to be scheduled. The settlement announcement comes amid increased calls from Florida advocates to free everyone from detention. At the three South Florida detention facilities, nearly 500 people contracted COVID-19, and at least one person died from complications with the virus.
“While we celebrate this settlement, we must continue to stay vigilant and advocate for the safety of those who remain on the inside,” said Jessica Schnieder, Director of the Detention Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice. “COVID is not going away anytime soon, and it’s important for our local and federal leaders to heed the calls of communities and advocates who know that community-based alternatives to detention offer a humane and cost-effective way forward and mitigate the public health risks associated with detention.”
"This is an outstanding result for our vulnerable clients. It ensures that these facilities remain under Judge Cooke's supervision throughout the pandemic. And it will hold ICE to its obligation to put our clients' health first," said Scott Edson, a partner in King & Spalding's Washington, D.C. office.
The settlement agreement can be viewed HERE.