ACLU seeks release of immigrants detained at Wyatt Detention Center due to COVID-19

Wyatt Detention Center
Wyatt Detention Center, File. (WLNE-TV)

PROVIDENCE, R.I.  (WLNE) – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of RI filed a lawsuit seeking the immediate release of three immigrants detained at the Wyatt Detention Center who are at high-risk to COVID-19.

The ACLU argues the Wyatt Detention Center poses risks to the well-being of the detained immigrants, who suffer from preexisting health conditions.  The risks posed are “unhygienic conditions” and an environment where social distancing is not possible.

The suit by the ACLU was filed in the U.S. District Court of RI and includes testimony from public health experts.  The suit identifies facilities like Wyatt Detention as places where COVID-19 is “increasing at an alarming rate,” and that many courts across the country have released ICE detainees with high-risk medical conditions in response to similar petitions.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU of RI with cooperating attorneys Deborah Gonzalez and Jared Goldstein, who are professors at Roger Williams University School of Law.  Lawyers from the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Immigrants’ Rights Project are also involved.

ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Jared Goldstein stated: “When the government detains or imprisons anyone, it has a duty to ensure their safety. Our clients suffer from serious medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to death from COVID-19. Yet in the face of a global pandemic that threatens vulnerable detainees like them, Wyatt has continued business-as-usual operations. By continuing to hold our clients in unsanitary conditions at Wyatt, where basic hygiene is ignored, the facility imperils their lives. The Constitution requires their release.”

ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Deborah Gonzalez noted: “There are ICE detainees at Wyatt that have serious pre-existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes and severe asthma, to name a few, and who are seriously susceptible to the COVID-19 pandemic. These folks need to be released as there is no way to exercise social distancing while detained, especially when the detainees are congregating in a group of 60 with no masks and with no way to keep the ordered 6 feet of distance.”

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown said: “The expert witness testimony submitted with our lawsuit makes abundantly clear the life-threatening risks faced by our clients. We are hopeful that the court will act favorably and authorize their release with appropriate conditions.”

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