During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, the SPLC and its allies filed a lawsuit seeking the immediate release of people with preexisting health conditions held at three south Georgia immigration detention centers, where they are at greater risk of contracting the virus that causes the disease.
The lawsuit warns of an imminent catastrophe at the privately operated detention centers – the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, the Folkston ICE Processing Center in Folkston and the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla – if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement fails to take meaningful action to safeguard the health of these detained people, facility employees and the surrounding communities.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 13 people detained for civil immigration charges with a range of underlying health conditions that make them especially susceptible to COVID-19, which is highly contagious and known to thrive in jails and detention centers where people are held in close quarters. The substandard conditions of these three immigration detention centers, which have been cited by the federal government in the past for poor sanitation and inadequate medical care, only exacerbate conditions favorable for transmission of the disease.
The lawsuit was later broken into two lawsuits when the SPLC and its allies filed Aristoteles Sanchez Martinez, et al. v. Michael Donahue, et al., which focused on conditions at the Stewart and Irvin County detention centers, and Jenner Benavides, et al. v. Patrick Gartland, et al., which focused on conditions at the Folkston ICE Processing Center.