Los Angeles, California, May 1, 2020 – Immigrants’ basic rights to life and liberty are at stake as California’s Supreme Court considers a request to stop transfers from California jails and prisons to United States federal immigration detention centers during the Covid-19 pandemic, Human Rights Watch said today.

In an amicus letter in support of a petition for writ of mandate, Human Rights Watch submitted evidence from its investigations into substandard care in immigration detention facilities illustrating why transfers of non-citizens into that system during the Covid-19 crisis are dangerous. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the petition on behalf of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and American Immigration Lawyers Association, Southern California Chapter.

“Now is not the time for California to increase the numbers of people locked up in immigration detention,” said Grace Meng, senior US immigration researcher at Human Rights Watch. “By stopping transfers into these facilities, the state can take action now to protect detainees, detention facility staff, and the wider community from further illness and death due to Covid-19.”

California transfers many deportable non-citizens who are released from prisons and jails – because they have completed sentences, earned parole, or been granted bail – into the federal immigration detention system. As a result, California’s prisons and jails significantly contribute to the immigration detention population, Human Rights Watch said.

In its 13 years of investigations into medical care in US immigration detention, Human Rights Watch repeatedly found evidence of severely substandard care as well as a systemic failure by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to address problems identified by ICE’s own experts in federal facilities in California.

The amicus submission included the case of Jose Azurdia, who died of a heart attack in the Adelanto detention facility in California. Azurdia showed signs of illness but a nurse declined to check on him because “she did not want to see Azurdia because she did not want to get sick,” according to an ICE investigation.

The amicus also cited a recent study released online by the Journal of Urban Health, which modeled the rate of Covid-19 transmission within 111 ICE detention facilities. The model showed that 72 percent of people detained in ICE facilities would be infected with Covid-19 90 days after a facility had 5 infected cases. The model further showed that high rates of infection could contribute to overloading regional hospitals in the detention center’s community.

“ICE’s record shows that it is wholly unprepared to address a public health crisis of this magnitude or to address the health needs of any people added to the detention system,” Meng said. “If immigrants and workers in immigration detention in California get sick at high rates, hospitals in California’s communities are also likely to become overloaded.”

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