Federal judge clears way for lawsuit against ICE over medical treatment of detainees

GEO Group, which operates the ICE detention center in Aurora, has held detainees with mental health issues in solitary confinement

More than 1,000 people marched on July 12, 2019 in protest of the detention of immigrants in private prisons, including the detention facility in Aurora, Colo. run by GEO Group.
GEO Group's immigration detention facility in Aurora. A judge cleared the way for a lawsuit against ICE over the medical treatment of detainees. (Photo by Cullen Lobe)

A federal judge on Monday ordered ICE to consider releasing any detainees with medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19. The case is part of a class-action lawsuit over the alleged failure of ICE to provide adequate medical treatment to detainees. Here’s the emergency preliminary injunction.

A District Court judge in California has cleared the way for a lawsuit against ICE over the medical and mental health treatment of detainees, including those housed at the detention center in Aurora. 

The class-action lawsuit, filed in 2019, alleges that companies like GEO Group, a Florida-based private prison company that operates the Aurora Detention Center, fail to provide adequate treatment to people with mental health and medical needs. 

GEO Group has isolated immigrants in solitary confinement, including detainees who likely needed mental health treatment. In 2017, Kamyar Samimi, 64, died shortly after being forced into addiction withdrawal without any care from GEO’s staff.

This treatment violates the Fifth Amendment, which forbids the government from depriving a person of life, liberty or property without due process, the lawsuit alleges. 

“ICE’s failure to ensure that private prison companies like the GEO Group adequately take care of people in their custody has been an open secret for a long time,” said Timothy Fox, co-executive director of the Denver-based Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC), in a statement. 

The plaintiffs are represented by CREEC, Southern Poverty Law Center, Disability Rights Advocates, Herrington and Sutcliffe and Willkie Farr and Gallagher.

U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal’s order allowing the lawsuit to go forward comes as ICE fends off another lawsuit aimed at releasing 14 medically at-risk detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic. After immigration lawyers filed the federal lawsuit against ICE on Tuesday, the agency released eight women, all of whom have HIV, attorneys have said.

An ICE spokesperson said as a matter of policy her agency cannot comment on either lawsuit.

Many immigrants are detained while seeking asylum or are accused of violating U.S. immigration laws. There are about 525 detainees at the Aurora Detention Center. According to U.S. Rep. Jason Crow’s office, which has been doing regular investigations into the ICE facility, 21 people were released from the facility last week and 23 were brought in.

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