by Adina Appelbaum, Esq.

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CAIR Coalition, the National Immigration Project, and the Legal Aid Justice Center cite evidence of facilities holding individuals showing symptoms of COVID-19 in two Virginia facilities

WASHINGTON (April 14, 2020) — Immigration advocacy groups have filed a temporary restraining order asking the court to make an immediate decision to release individuals who are most at-risk for serious illness or death if infected with COVID-19 from Virginia’s immigration detention facilities.

This filing is part of a lawsuit the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG), and the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) filed last week against the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on behalf of nine individuals detained in facilities around the Commonwealth.

The motion cites evidence of facilities in Virginia holding individuals who are currently showing symptoms of COVID-19. While ICE has not reported any confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Virginia facilities, the existence of individuals exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms poses significant risk to the nine plaintiffs, all of whom are at least 60 years old or have underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19.

Given the daily entry of staff and guards from the community, the continued influx and transfer of new people into detention facilities, and the absence of widespread testing, it is only a short matter of time before the disease becomes widespread among people detained in the Virginia detention facilities.

“People are fearing for their lives and they can’t do anything about it — that’s unconscionable,” said Adina Appelbaum, Program Director of the Immigration Impact Lab at CAIR Coalition. “This is a matter of life and death. If there’s no guarantee that they will remain safe in government custody, they need to be released immediately.”

“ICE’s insistence on continuing to detain out clients is egregious at this point,” said Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of NIPNLG. “With rising evidence of the risk to their health and safety and exponential increases in COVID-19 cases in Virginia, the only purpose their detention serves is to continue a bloated system of mass incarceration that simply needs to end. ICE should release our clients immediately, and should use this opportunity to rethink its overuse of detention in the immigration system.”

“Once COVID-19 reaches congregate settings, like nursing homes, cruise ships, and jails, it spreads like wildfire and wreaks havoc on vulnerable populations,” said Kristin Donovan, Staff Attorney at Legal Aid Justice Center. “In immigration detention, our clients, whose medical conditions put them at high risk of developing life-threatening complications from COVID-19, are powerless to protect themselves against this growing threat. They must be released from detention before it is too late.”

As a response to the global pandemic, several states and countries around the world — including the Commonwealth of Virginia — have issued stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the disease and are encouraging people to practice social distancing and significant hygiene measures that are not possible in detention centers. Facilities in Virginia remain unprepared and incapable of taking the necessary precautions to protect people in their custody against COVID-19.

To read the Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction, click here.

To read the Complaint, click here.



Sirine Shebaya, NIPNLG,, 202-656-4788

Sheena Pegarido, CAIR Coalition,, 202-559-4431

Jeff Jones, Legal Aid Justice Center,, 804-869-1040


The Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition strives to ensure equal justice for all immigrant adults and children at risk of detention and deportation in the Capital region area and beyond through direct legal representation, know your rights presentations, impact litigation, advocacy, and the enlistment and training of attorneys to defend immigrants. CAIR Coalition’s Immigration Impact Lab seeks to reduce the disproportionate legal injustices detained immigrant adults and children face by expanding cutting-edge impact litigation to engender systematic change through legal precedent that benefits broad groups of immigrants. More information can be found at

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) is a national non-profit organization that provides technical assistance and support to community-based immigrant organizations, legal practitioners, and all advocates seeking and working to advance the rights of noncitizens. NIPNLG utilizes impact litigation, advocacy, and public education to pursue its mission. Follow NIPNLG on social media: National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild on Facebook, @NIPNLG on Twitter.


The Legal Aid Justice Center partners with communities and clients to achieve justice by dismantling systems that create and perpetuate poverty. Justice means racial justice, social justice, and economic justice. Learn more at and connect with us on Facebook as LegalAidJusticeCenter and Twitter @LegalAidJustice.

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