Concord, NH. Nixon Peabody, together with the ACLU of New Hampshire, national ACLU, and four regional law firms, today brought a class action lawsuit seeking the immediate release of all Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) civil detainees from Strafford County (NH) Department of Corrections to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Concord, NH, argues it is impossible for people in the Dover facility to maintain social distancing of at least six feet—the minimum space medical authorities cite for preventing spread of the illness.
“Our clients are not detained for criminal activity, but only to await civil immigration action,” said David Vicinanzo, leader of Nixon Peabody’s Government Investigations & White Collar Defense practice and former First Assistant U.S. Attorney for New Hampshire. “This civil detention places them in grave danger in this pandemic. Inevitably, one detainee will contract COVID-19, and the risk of spread throughout the facility is high and potentially lethal.”
The conditions at the center that demand release for these inmates include:
- Bunk beds placed only two to three feet apart;
- Detainees sharing sinks, toilets, counters, and showers; and
- Food service is communal, with many people eating at the same table.
Because of these conditions, immigrants detained at Strafford County are at a heightened risk of exposure to the virus. This is not only inhumane, but also violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“Because the plaintiffs and other proposed class members are not being detained pursuant to a criminal conviction, safer alternatives are available,” said Nathan Warecki, an attorney with Nixon Peabody in Manchester who focuses on complex immigration litigation. “ICE has a long-standing practice of releasing detainees for humanitarian reasons, and regularly uses options like GPS and electronic monitoring to maintain custody and control over non-citizens.”
The lawsuit asserts that because ICE has refused to make urgent, necessary changes to its operations during the pandemic, courts must intervene. Read the lawsuit here: https://www.aclu-nh.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/gomes-first-amended-petition-for-writof-habeas-corpus.pdf
“The failure by ICE to release detainees in Dover puts detainees, staff, and the broader community at grave risk of death or serious injury,” said Devon Chaffee, executive director of the ACLU of New Hampshire. “The virus is already spreading through correctional facilities across the country with devastating consequences. We are demanding immediate action to stem this outbreak and save lives.”