At-risk detainees at the Federal Detention Center in Batavia are being denied the protective measures ordered by a federal judge, according to court papers filed today.
The same prisoner rights advocates who fought for those measures – single occupancy cells and the ability to bathe and eat in isolation – now claim the detention center is abiding by the court's order on an ad hoc basis that prevents most at-risk detainees from receiving the protections.
Their court action, the latest development in an existing lawsuit, seeks to turn their complaint into a class action suit on behalf of at least 100 detainees held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“ICE officials are the only ones who know how many medically at-risk people are in their custody, and their decision to continue jailing those people without proper protections creates an unacceptable risk of death and serious illness," Bobby Hodgson, a lawyer for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
In their motion, the NYCLU and Prisoners Legal Services of New York asked U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo to again intervene on behalf of detainees held by ICE.
ICE declined to comment on the court action except to confirm that there are currently no positive cases at Batavia.
"We have been taking important steps to safeguard all detainees, staff and contractors, including reducing the number of detainees in custody by placing individuals on alternatives to detention programs, suspending social visitation and incorporating social distancing practices with staggered meals and recreation times," the agency said in a statement.
ICE said detainees are also monitored and tested for COVID-19 in line with CDC guidelines.
Filed in March, the initial lawsuit led to a court order requiring that detainees who are 65 or older or otherwise medically at-risk be given protections recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Most of those measures involve social distancing and, in fact, were adopted for more than a dozen detainees at the immigration facility.
The problem, lawyers claim, is that dozens of others need the same protections. They also claim that, while there have been no deaths at the Batavia center – and while there may be no positive cases there now – there have been 49 cases of Covid-19, one of the highest number of confirmed diagnoses at an ICE facility across the country.
“Prisons and detention centers are smack in the middle of a vicious cycle involving the spread of the disease,” Karen Murtagh, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said in a statement. “The virus comes from the outside into confined congregate settings where social distancing is impossible. It then spreads like wildfire, infecting both the detained population and staff."
Murtagh said she is concerned that ICE's failure to protect the at-risk individuals at Batavia will result in "a death sentence for many in and outside of the facility.”