As the COVID-19 virus threatened the health and lives of people held at immigration detention centers in 2020, the SPLC and its allies filed a federal class action lawsuit seeking the immediate release of all people held at three detention centers in South Florida.
The complaint describes how granting the release of detained people would allow them to comply with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines to prevent infection by the virus that causes COVID-19.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had already confirmed one case of COVID-19 at the Krome Detention Center in Miami when the complaint was filed. ICE, however, refused to disclose how many people they had tested. Detained people, their families and advocates had reported more cases than were being confirmed by the agency.
Weeks before the complaint was filed, public health experts and doctors warned that a crisis inside detention centers and prisons was all but inevitable. What’s more, overcrowding, coupled with poor sanitation and hygiene inside ICE detention centers, create a tinderbox for rapid transmission of the virus.
In a declaration filed with the complaint, Juan Carlos Alfaro Garcia, an asylum seeker with asthma detained at Krome, said he had not seen guards washing their hands or applying hand sanitizer. Detained people, he added, do not have access to hand sanitizer. He also described how detained people around him were suffering from cough, fever and goosebumps, but there was little information from the detention center staff about their condition. Alfaro Garcia’s asthma, which leaves him susceptible to complications from COVID-19, had worsened since being taken into ICE custody.
If detained people are released, a strong network of community organizations and loved ones across Florida are ready to help transition people back into the safety of their homes and communities. Alfaro Garcia, for example, planned to 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.