Law360 (April 14, 2020, 7:04 PM EDT) -- Advocates accused a Colorado immigration detention center of failing to provide enough soap and keeping immigrants in close quarters, pressing a federal judge Tuesday to release more than a dozen medically vulnerable detainees during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a new lawsuit, attorneys asked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release 14 immigrants, many of whom are HIV positive, from detention at the Aurora, Colorado, facility, warning that these facilities are a "hotbed for spread of the virus" and that only release will shield these high-risk individuals from contracting the disease.
"Petitioners fear for their lives, and for good reason: they are trapped in a facility that can only be described as a breeding ground for the disease," the suit said.
Social distancing measures are impossible to enact in a crowded detention center, and ICE "has taken no meaningful measures to curb the spread of the virus at the Aurora facility," the lawsuit alleged.
According to the advocates, the Aurora facility, which is run by private contractor GEO Group, has not conducted widespread testing, despite several confirmed cases of COVID-19 among detention center employees. Two ICE employees and three GEO employees who work at the Aurora facility have been diagnosed with the disease, ICE and GEO confirmed.
There have been more than 7,500 confirmed coronavirus cases in Colorado, and more than 1,100 in the county where the detention center is housed.
The advocates also claimed that basic amenities like soap and hand sanitizer are "in short supply," immigrants' beds are inches apart, detention center staffers don't always wear protective gear when interacting with detainees, and detainees are still transferred to and from other detention centers.
"We think that immigration detention should not be a death sentence," Adrienne Boyd of Arnold & Porter, which teamed up with two advocacy organizations to file the lawsuit, told reporters on Tuesday.
Laura Lunn, managing attorney for the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, which provides pro bono legal services for immigrants held at the facility, added that the organization has filed parole requests for the people it represents at the facility and drafted a pro se template for others.
But with more than 500 people detained at the center, she saw that wasn't enough and decided to look to the federal courts. Federal judges, including in Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, have in recent weeks ordered ICE to release immigrants who are at higher risk of contracting the new coronavirus in response to other lawsuits.
An ICE spokesperson said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation, but that "lack of comment should not be construed as agreement with or stipulation to any of the allegations."
The spokesperson also said that ICE has identified more than 160 medically vulnerable immigrants to be released and is continuing to evaluate custody and arrest cases on this basis.
There are more than 4,000 fewer people in immigration detention since March 1, according to the agency.
The spokesperson also said that ICE provides detainees with soap in the showers and by the sinks, as well as hand sanitizer for visitors at entrances, exits and waiting areas.
A spokesperson for GEO, which runs the facility, said the contractor "plays no role" in release decisions, which are made by the federal government and courts.
The detainees are represented by Timothy R. Macdonald, Adrienne D. Boyd, Kathleen K. Custer and Sarah Grey of Arnold & Porter, Sirine Shebaya, Khaled Alrabe and Amber Qureshi of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild; and Laura Lunn of the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network.
Counsel information for the federal government was not yet available.
The case is Leaford Codner et al. v. Choate et al., case number 1:20-cv-01050, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
--Editing by Haylee Pearl.
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