Under Legal Fire, ICE Releases Women With HIV From Center

By Alyssa Aquino
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Law360 (April 16, 2020, 10:02 PM EDT) -- Eight women with HIV were released from immigration detention within 24 hours of suing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be removed from a center in Aurora, Colorado, which attorneys described as a hotbed for the novel coronavirus.

Attorneys representing the women announced ICE's immediate release Wednesday of eight out of 14 individuals the attorneys claim are at high risk of contracting "COVID-19" at the Aurora detention center.

"We are thrilled that our 8 clients have been released after the filing of this lawsuit. But it should not have taken emergency litigation to achieve this outcome. Their quick release shows that ICE is fully capable of releasing people, and is aware of the special vulnerabilities affecting many of those it is currently detaining but is not taking the actions it should unless compelled to do so," Sirine Shebaya, one of the women's attorneys, said Wednesday.

Shebaya and several other attorneys asked a Colorado federal judge on Tuesday to release 14 individuals from ICE's privately-run Aurora detention center. The immigrants suffer from a range of chronic medical conditions, such as HIV, hypertension and asthma, leaving them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the attorneys said.

The eight women who were released Wednesday all have HIV, but Laura Lunn of the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network told Law360 Thursday that one more immigrant with HIV — who is also a petitioner in the lawsuit — is still detained at the Aurora center.

"There are 9 people who are living with HIV and only 8 of them were released. It's just important to recognize that in a time where that identity or that piece of their identity can end their life if they're diagnosed with this virus, that ICE is choosing to hone in on some other factors they believe trump this risk factor," she said. 

Also excluded from ICE's release order are 52-year-old Sanela Hamciz, who was left with one lung following her battle with lung cancer, and 47-year-old Rafael Soria Mora, who suffers from chronic asthma requiring inhaler use 10 to 11 times a day, attorneys confirmed. 

The attorneys reported that immigrants' beds are inches apart, basic amenities like soap and hand sanitizer are "in short supply," and detention center staffers don't always wear protective gear when interacting with detainees.

According to ICE documents obtained by Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., the Aurora facility holds 527 detainees and as of April 6, detention workers had quarantined 77 individuals because of illness.

Crow, whose district includes the detention center, wrote to former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last year raising "serious concerns" about the facility and requesting more information about the agency's handling of past chickenpox outbreaks.

An ICE spokesperson said Thursday the agency releases individuals particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 on a case-by-case basis.

A spokesperson for GEO Group Inc., the government contractor that runs the Aurora center, said Thursday GEO isn't involved in the decision to release individuals from immigration detention.

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.

The federal government is represented by Laura J. Ellis and Ian J. Kellogg of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado.

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.

---Additional reporting by Suzanne Monyak. Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

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