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Arizona civil rights groups sue for the release of immigrants in detention centers

Posted at 6:09 PM, Apr 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-03 23:50:40-04

“Trapped in tinderboxes,” that’s how a coalition of civil rights organizations describe the conditions of undocumented immigrants inside Arizona’s immigration detention centers.

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The 39-page lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, the same day Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed its first positive COVID-19 case in ICE detention centers.

“It is a concern that we have people in these detention facilities that are unable to protect themselves,” said Victoria Lopez, Legal and Advocacy Director for the ACLU of Arizona.

ACLU of Arizona, The Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, and the Phoenix law firm, Perkins Coie LLP are the organizations behind this lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks for the release of eight immigrants held inside the La Palma and Eloy detention centers. Lopez says the release of immigrants is a life and death situation.

“ICE is not equipped to protect people against contracting this infection, we see people with serious medical issues and at a high risk of contracting the disease,” she explained.

Lopez hopes this legal action can help with the release of many more immigrants, especially after ICE officials confirmed the first case of an immigrant with COVID-19 at La Palma detention center.

“The structure, the layout of these facilities is such that people are confined, they’re not able to move around.”

ABC15 reported detainees inside La Palma claiming confinement in rooms called “tanks” with over 100 people. After our report, other detainees at the Eloy facility claim similar conditions in “tanks” with over 30 people.

“You’re supposed to have social distancing to not spread the virus, but that person's being locked in there with at least 50 people,” said Dinorah, who asked to omit her last name for safety reasons.

Dinorah says her friend is in custody at the Eloy detention center, where detainees are concerned and tired of not getting answers from officials as rumors about more positive cases arise.

“Where he is, there are at least 33 cases all in the same tank. We don’t know what they’re doing to help them or if they’re testing them,” said Dinorah.

Dinorah says she would like her friend to be released on an ankle monitor during the pandemic.

As for Lopez, she says it’s important to remember that ICE detainees are in custody for civil immigration violations and so ICE has a broad discretion to make conditions on people’s release.

“They have the authority and the discretion to be able to save people’s lives and they’re not taking those steps right now. It impacts our entire community because we’re in a public health crisis.”