The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia on Monday.
The lawsuit calls for ICE to protect all detainees who are considered at risk of complications related to COVID-19 as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control.
Attorney Bobby Hodgson with the NYCLU said it stems from an earlier court decision.
“We shouldn’t have to bring this case, this is so straightforward,” said Hodgson. “And the fact that ICE is dragging its feet and not doing this for people who are in real danger, it’s just, you know, it’s so … it’s not just.”
In the earlier case, the court determined that any detainee who is 65 or older, or otherwise medically at risk for COVID-19-related complications, is entitled to constitutionally mandated protections.
That includes being housed in single-occupancy cells, guaranteed access to soap and cleaning supplies, and adjustments to ensure social distancing.
If the detention center could not implement these measures for whatever reason, the Constitution requires that those detainees be released.
Hodgson said that while this applied to a dozen individuals in the earlier case, it should apply universally.
“The problem is it shouldn’t be this luck-of-the-draw, 'Were you able to make yourself known to a lawyer who then brought it to ICE?' ” he said. “ICE is the only one who can identify all these people.”
ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, according to the federal agency's website, more than 900 detainees have been released nationally "after evaluating their immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk, and national security concerns."
It also states that alcohol-based sanitizer is available to staff and detainees "whenever possible," and that the populations of all detention centers are being reduced to 70 percent or less to increase social distancing.