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McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Civil rights organizations on Wednesday filed a lawsuit seeking the release of immigration detainees that they say have underlying health concerns that put them at a heightened risk to contract COVID-19.

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF), the Texas Civil Rights Projects and two lawyer groups on Wednesday filed the lawsuit against officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security, claiming that the rights of these migrants held in South Texas facilities in Port Isabel, and Laredo are being violated by being exposed to potentially dangerous health conditions.

The lawsuit is one of several filed in recent weeks on behalf of migrants held in crowded federal detention facilities along the border who fear they will catch coronavirus.

“By continuing to detain Petitioners in conditions that expose them to an impermissibly high risk of contracting COVID-19, Respondents violate Petitioners’ rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” read the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Texas in Laredo. “Each Petitioner is at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to their age or chronic underlying health conditions. Respondents prevent Petitioners from being able to practice even the most basic precautions while detained. Petitioners urge this Court to enjoin Respondents’ ongoing unlawful detention so that Petitioners can practice the preventative strategies necessary to avoid becoming victims of this historic global pandemic.”Read the lawsuit against ICE filed on April 15, 2020.Download

“Our client and other detainees with serious health conditions should not have to risk their lives to seek immigration relief,” said Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president of litigation, counsel in the case. “Detention centers cannot constitutionally expose the people in their care to grave risk of illness and death.”

Efrén Olivares is legal director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program at Texas Civil Rights Project. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“It’s impossible to socially distance in these ICE facilities,” said Efrén Olivares, legal director of the Racial and Economic Justice Program at Texas Civil Rights Project. “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.”

The lawsuit charges there are lax measures used in the three detention facilities to prevent the spread of the deadly novel virus, and that detainees are being housed in crowded facilities without proper hygiene to ward off illness. The lawsuit also alleges that guards do not wear gloves or face masks when they interact with these plaintiffs:

  • Raul Garza Marroquin, 78, a green-card holder originally from Mexico who has hypertension who is being held at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Los Fresnos, Texas.
  • Rafael Olvera Amezcua, 62, an asylum seeker from Mexico with Type 1 diabetes and hypertension who requires insulin and other medications and who is being held at Webb County Detention Center in Laredo.
  • Giorge Gonzalez, 28, an asylum-seeker from Cuba who suffers from severe asthma and who is being held at the Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo.

Border Report reached out to ICE officials, who said “ICE does not comment on pending litigation.”

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at