On Wednesday, attorneys representing three detainees held at South Texas detention centers filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in an effort to have them released from the detention centers.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, MALDEF, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, along with their attorneys, filed the suit arguing three detainees, Raul Garza Marroquin, Rafael Olvera Amezcua, and Giorge Gonzalez, are “uniquely vulnerable to contracting the novel coronavirus disease while in custody at three different detention centers in South Texas, including the Port Isabel Detention Center, the Webb County Detention Center, and the Rio Grande Detention Center, the lawsuit states in part.
Filed in the Southern District of Texas, Laredo Division, the lawsuit claims the government is violating their clients’ rights by continuing to detain them despite their susceptibility to contracting the virus; mainly their respective underlying medical conditions and advanced age.
“Older individuals immunocompromised individuals, and people with certain chronic health conditions including diabetes, asthma, heart conditions, and lung disease are at greater risk of contracting severe cases of COVID-19. Many fatalities in the United States due to COVID-19 have been older individuals and individuals with chronic underlying medical conditions,” lawsuit stated.
Garza, a 78-year-old legal permanent resident, who according to the complaint, has lived in the country since 1980 and has “serious medical conditions,” is detained at the Port Isabel detention center.
Counsel for Garza states they asked for Garza to be released March 27, but were denied four days later without providing a reason.
“My client is scared. He asks me who would take care of his family and his disabled children if he dies as a result of the coronavirus,” Carlos Moctezuma Garcia of Garcia & Garcia Attorneys at Law, said. “This isn’t something that a 40-year lawful permanent resident should wonder.”
Olvera, a 62-year-old asylum seeker and at one time someone who had permanent residence status, has lived in the country since 2014, and had been held at a detention center in Pearsall, Texas before being transferred to the Webb County detention center. According to the 39-page lawsuit, Olvera suffers from multiple medical conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, and depression, to name a few.
“Mr. Olvera is detained in a living area (“pod”) that currently holds seven people. Mr. Olvera sleeps in a cell and shares a common area with the other six individuals in the pod; the common area contains a sink, shower, two toilets, three tables with seats, a microwave oven, and two telephones. There are no paper towels or disposable tissues in the common area. There is no shampoo or soap provided in the shower other than the small soap and small shampoo issued to each detainee on a weekly basis,” the court document stated.
Lastly, Gonzalez, 28, is a Cuban national fleeing “persecution torture,” who arrived in the country July 2019, requesting asylum. He is being detained at the Rio Grande Detention Center.
Despite his age, which is significantly younger than his counterparts, Gonzalez’s attorneys argue the man has suffered from asthma issues since he was 2 years old.
“Gonzalez has experienced chronic and severe asthma since he was about two years old. This condition substantially limits Mr. Gonzalez’s major life activities including, but not limited to, the functioning of his respiratory system. He has a record of and is regarded as having such an impairment and limitations. Mr. Gonzalez suffers frequent and severe asthma attacks and has been advised by medical professionals that he is particularly vulnerable to contracting airborne viruses as a result of his asthma,” the lawsuit stated.
Counsel for the men are requesting that the court take jurisdiction over the case, declare the detainees detention unlawful and unconstitutional, order the immediate release of the detainees with conditions, or, if the court does not release the detainees, “provide petitioners with protection from the risk of contracting COVID-19 by ameliorating all conditions that prevent petitioners from implementing the public health recommendations that are the only known means of preventing against and mitigating the effects of COVID-19,” the document stated.
“It’s impossible to socially distance in these ICE facilities,” Efrén C. Olivares said.
Olivares, the Legal Director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program for the Texas Civil Rights Project,added, “So, by holding our clients at their discretion, ICE is asking for an outbreak that will endanger the lives of the entire community, in areas that are already starting out with fewer healthcare resources.”