by Adina Appelbaum, Esq.

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The National Immigration Project, CAIR Coalition, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Maryland represent detained persons with high risk of serious illness or death while in detention during global pandemic


WASHINGTON (March 24, 2020) — As the number of known coronavirus cases rise to almost 300 in Maryland, including three deaths, two individuals detained in Maryland immigration facilities today filed a lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be released. The complaint cites their high risk for severe illness or death if they were to contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, while in detention.

The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG), the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Immigrants’ Rights Project, and the ACLU of Maryland filed the lawsuit on their behalf. The two individuals have medical conditions that lead to a higher risk of a serious COVID-19 infection. The results of this case could set a nationwide precedent for all immigration detention facilities to release individuals who are most at risk.

“ICE’s needless detention of immigrants has always been cruel and excessive, but today, it is also recklessly endangering their lives,” said Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director of NIPNLG. “We have filed this lawsuit today to seek the urgent release of immigrants who are at high risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19 in an effort to save their lives. 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.”

“Immigration detention should not be a death sentence,” said Adina Appelbaum, Program Director of the Immigration Impact Lab at CAIR Coalition. “For people who are at high risk for COVID-19, being released is a matter of life or death. Being detained during an epidemic that threatens their lives violates our clients’ basic constitutional right to be free from punitive conditions of confinement. These medically vulnerable individuals need to be released to the shelter and safety of their families in Maryland, right now, before it is too late."

This case builds on a case that the ACLU filed last week in Washington state. Today, similar cases were filed in California, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

“We are filing suits like this nationwide in an urgent effort to save the lives of immigrants who are most vulnerable to this virus,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “ICE officials have already started to test positive for COVID-19. Public health officials continue to advise that detention centers — as well as jails, prisons, and other similar facilities — must dramatically reduce their population and density for the safety of detained people, staff who work in these facilities, and the communities they live in. If ICE doesn’t immediately release the people it knows are likely to be hit the hardest, it will have their blood on its hands.”

There are community-based alternatives to detention that are available – such as release on conditions or on bond.

As a response to the global pandemic, several states and countries around the world — including the State of Maryland — have put in place significant restrictions on public gatherings to slow the spread of the disease and are encouraging people to practice hygienic measures. These are not possible in detention centers. In addition, many detention facilities are susceptible to rapid spread of the virus and are not equipped to handle a coronavirus outbreak. Confirmed cases have begun to appear in several detention facilities around the country.

The filing includes a declaration from Dr. Ranit Mishori, who speaks to the health risk for our plaintiffs and those in immigration detention.

To read the complaint, visit here. Dr. Mishori’s declaration is available here. The motion for a temporary restraining order is here.



Sirine Shebaya, NIPNLG,, 202-656-4788

Sheena Pegarido, CAIR,, 202-559-4431

Hanna Johnson, ACLU, 650-464-1698

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

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