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Lawyers sue to stop Newsom from transferring inmates to ICE centers

Hunger strikers during a sit-in protest April 10 at Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield.
Hunger strikers during a sit-in protest April 10 at Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield.
(California Committee for Immigrant Liberation)

Two lawyer groups have asked the California Supreme Court for an order barring Gov. Gavin Newsom from continuing to transfer inmates to crowded Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a lawsuit filed directly with the state’s highest court, associations of criminal defense and immigration lawyers said California was sending inmates to five ICE detention centers, calling them virulent incubators of the virus.”

“ICE’s abject failure to protect the lives of people in its custody from the deadly COVID-19 is inviting a calamity — a public health crisis that will affect not just the detainees, but the surrounding communities and California as a whole,” the lawsuit said.

The suit said inmates at the detention facilities cannot remain six feet apart and lack access to adequate health care. Some are on a hunger strike.

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“California’s jails and prisons are continuing to voluntarily transfer individuals to ICE custody in the midst of the pandemic, even though they are not legally required to do so,” the suit said.

ICE must reduce the population at the Adelanto processing facility to allow detainees to keep six feet apart amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In addition to Newsom, Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra was named as a defendant. The California Supreme Court set up an expedited schedule for written arguments.

California-based foundations for the ACLU are representing the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the Southern California chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn. in the case.

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The transfers from California prisons and jails account for most of ICE’s bookings at the detention centers during the pandemic, the suit said. Some of those sent to detention centers, the suit said, had been released early from criminal custody as part of California’s efforts to reduce crowding at jails and prisons during the health crisis.

“Time is of the essence,” the suit said. “Piecemeal litigation in the lower courts is not an option given the dramatic pace at which the crisis is unfolding.”

California is a sanctuary state that generally prohibits city and county law enforcement from transferring inmates to ICE without a warrant or notifying ICE of release dates. County jails can transfer immigrants to ICE only after they are eligible for release.

Under rules set by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, prison inmates can be transferred to ICE five days before their scheduled release dates.

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There are 4,000 immigrants in California’s ICE centers, which lack personal protective equipment and proper sanitation, the suit said, adding that “fundamental constitutional rights to life are at stake.”

Detainees spoke of fear and neglect in sworn declarations presented to the court.

Kelvin Hernandez Roman, who was detained in the Adelanto immigration detention facility in San Bernardino County, said he was crammed into a dorm with 70 to 80 people until a court ordered his release days ago.

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A few weeks ago, he became sick with a fever, cough and body aches but could not get medical help, he said. ICE refused his request for a coronavirus test and medication for his asthma, he said.

“The state of California’s continued transfers to ICE at this moment in time is cruel and inhumane,” the suit said, “and it defies every effort this state has already made to ebb the spread of the lethal COVID-19.”

The suit, citing due process rights under both the state and federal constitutions, asked the Supreme Court to issue an order no later than May 4.

Spokespersons for Newsom and Becerra were not immediately available for comment.


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