13 elderly and ailing immigrants fearing Coronavirus sue ICE for release from detention

File photo of federal immigration detention facility. (Photo: Getty Images)

Thirteen elderly or ailing immigrants who are being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sued the agency in federal court in San Francisco Tuesday, asking for their immediate release because they are at risk of serious illness or death from the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The lawsuit claims that in the crowded and allegedly unsanitary conditions in detention facilities in Marysville and Bakersfield, it is impossible to maintain the social distance and hygiene needed to protect from the virus.

In a motion accompanying the lawsuit, the immigrants' lawyers wrote, "In light of their age and/or compromised health, plaintiffs live in constant terror of contracting COVID-19." 

The two facilities are the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Bakersfield and the Yuba County Jail in Marysville.

The 13 plaintiffs, who are awaiting administrative immigration proceedings, are from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Russia and Fiji. They are elderly and/or suffer from diabetes, severe asthma, high blood pressure, anemia or tuberculosis, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit asks for a court order requiring their release. A date for a hearing on the case has not been announced.

A spokesman for ICE was not immediately available for comment. The agency's website states, "The health, welfare and safety of ICE detainees is one of the agency's highest priorities." It says that ICE epidemiologists have been tracking the COVID-19 outbreak and "regularly updating infection prevention and control protocols."

The immigrants are represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Francisco Public Defender's Office and an Oakland law firm, Lakin & Wille LLP.

San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju said in a statement, "There is no valid justification for locking up vulnerable immigrants and putting their lives at risk. This is an unprecedented crisis that compels us to take swift action, before it's too late."