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Today, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial CountiesACLU Foundation Immigrants’ Rights ProjectACLU Foundation National Prison Project and ACLU Foundation Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & HIV Project asked the court to dismiss a lawsuit filed earlier this month on behalf of four people who were detained at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Otay Mesa Detention Center and Imperial Regional Detention Facility. The plaintiffs have medical conditions that make them highly vulnerable to serious illness and death if infected with COVID-19.

Our clients, Yusuf Ozdemir and Jane Doe, were released Thursday night; and Miguel Angel Benitez and Issis Yoselin Zelaya Sagastume were released Friday night.

“Our plaintiffs’ release from custody is a victory for them and their families,” said Monika Y. Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “We urge ICE to continue reducing its population of detained people in accordance with public health experts’ recommendations during this pandemic. ICE detention should never be a death sentence.”

Because of their acute medical conditions — including leukemia, lung disease and HIV infection — the plaintiffs were at increased health risk in these detention centers, where as many as 60-100 people share close living quarters. Detainees sleep in bunk beds only a few feet apart and share common areas, such as eating tables, showers, toilets and sinks. The Otay Mesa Detention Center recently emerged as the immigrant detention facility with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 nationwide.

“We are thrilled to learn that our clients have been released and will be able to practice social distancing and other safety measures,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation National Prison Project. “For our clients — in this suit and in similar suits the ACLU has filed around the country — a COVID-19 infection is a death sentence. Public health experts have been clear that immigrant detention centers present a public health risk to the people in detention and the communities that surround them. Many more people must be released to mitigate that risk and truly flatten the curve.”


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