by Adina Appelbaum, Esq.

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CAIR Coalition, the National Immigration Project, and the Legal Aid Justice Center represent detained persons at high risk of serious illness or death while in detention during global pandemic

WASHINGTON (April 9, 2020) — Today, immigration advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeking release from immigration detention facilities in Virginia for individuals who are most at-risk for serious illness or death if infected with COVID-19.

As the number of known COVID-19-related deaths rise to 109 in Virginia, the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG) and the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) are suing ICE on behalf of nine individuals detained in facilities around the Commonwealth.

The lawsuit is one of many filed around the country demanding that detained immigrants be released because of the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, CAIR Coalition and NIPNLG filed a similar lawsuit in Maryland along with the ACLU. NIPNLG and other groups have also filed similar litigation in Louisiana, along with CCR and other partners. These matters are of the utmost urgency given that many in ICE custody now face significant risks to their lives and safety.

“Immigration detention should not be a death sentence,” said Adina Appelbaum, Program Director of the Immigration Impact Lab at CAIR Coalition. “Our clients fear for their lives because they have medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to serious illness or death if they’re infected. This violates their constitutional right to safety while in government custody. There is no other option — they need to be released immediately.”

“ICE’s needless detention of immigrants has always been cruel and excessive, but today, it also recklessly endangers their lives,” said Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of NIPNLG. “The government is aware of the risk and yet has refused to release those who are detained, despite the virtual consensus among public health experts – including those working for the Department of Homeland Security – that release is necessary under current circumstances. Keeping high-risk individuals detained under these circumstances is nothing short of a death sentence.”

“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 complaint, click here.

To read the memorandum of law in support of motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, 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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