ACLU Files Lawsuit in Response to ICE Denying COVID-19 Boosters to Detainees

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labelled with a “Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine” sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Catherine Potente and Veronica Miller

WASHINGTON, DC – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of the District of Columbia have filed a lawsuit against ICE of behalf of medically vulnerable people who have been denied the COVID-19 booster by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained.

According to the ACLU, the plaintiffs “have been diagnosed with medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and tuberculosis,” putting them at risk of severe illness and death if exposed to a virus, like COVID-19.

Beginning in March 2020, COVID-19 has been threatening the lives of those detained in ICE detention facilities. People living in the detention facilities have been denied sufficient medical care and have been forced to live in crowded housing units, said the ACLU in its pleading.

Given these living conditions of the ICE detention facilities, COVID-19 continues to threaten the people living there, especially with new variants emerging, and ICE is aware that the booster shots provide vital protection from the virus, therefore preventing severe illness and death for those with underlying conditions, the lawsuit notes.

According to Eunice Cho, the senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, “[ICE’s failure] to provide booster shots is not only irresponsible and cruel, it’s also a violation of their constitutional rights.”

Detention Centers have seen an increase of more than 940 percent since Jan. 3, 2022 and despite this increase, only 671 of the approximately 22,000 people detained have received the booster, the ACLU cites, charging ICE still has not taken any steps to ensure those who are eligible are receiving their booster.

Arthur B. Spitzer, a senior counsel at ACLU of the District of Columbia states, “ICE’s failure to provide them to detainees reflects a truly callous disregard for the health and safety of the people in its care.” This is especially concerning given the fact the COVID-19 booster shot is available across the country.

The ACLU filed this lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the five medically vulnerable detainees.

This case is being litigated by a team of attorneys including Eunice Cho, Patrick Taurel, and Aditi Shaul from the ACLU National Prison Project. Michael Tan and My Khanh Ngo from the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and Arthur Spitzer from the ACLU of the District of Columbia.

About The Author

Catherine is a fourth year undergraduate student at UC Davis, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Communications. She plans to graduate in 2022 and is interested in studying law.

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