On April 3, 2020, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm Dechert LLP filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of 22 people who are held in immigration detention in two county jails in the commonwealth. The plaintiffs are all at high risk of dying or becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19 because of their age or underlying health conditions or both. They are all civil immigration detainees, awaiting the outcome of their immigration proceedings.
The lawsuit builds on a federal court ruling in a previous ACLU-PA case, Thakker et al. v. Doll et al., in which the court found that the three Pennsylvania ICE detention centers could not provide safe living conditions for medically vulnerable people and thus ordered ICE to release them. The plaintiffs in this case are similarly situated to those in Thakker.
The plaintiffs in this lawsuit describe conditions in which people are housed in close proximity to each other with as many as 60 people in a room with bunk beds tightly packed together. In the Pike County jail, detainees live with three people per cell, sharing a common toilet and sink. Meals are served with people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder. People in detention do not have access to hand sanitizer and even soap is rationed. When the people who are detained clean the facilities, they are not given protective gear, exposing them to bodily fluids.
Since Thakker was decided on March 31, Pike County Correctional Facility has acknowledged that four people in immigration detention and four staff have tested positive for COVID-19. One person in immigration detention at York County Prison has tested positive.
On April 7, 2020, the federal district court issued a temporary restraining order and granted the immediate release of the 22 plaintiffs. Later that day, the court issued a stay of that decision, pending a motion to reconsider by the defendants.