The State Of Arizona's Immigration Detention Centers During The Coronavirus

Published: Friday, April 10, 2020 - 12:47pm
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MARK BRODIE: People held in Arizona are at the heart of recent lawsuits over how to run the immigration courts and who should get released from detention due to the coronavirus. Most are at the La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, where federal authorities have confirmed at least two cases of COVID-19. For more on this, I'm joined by KJZZ's Matthew Casey. Hey, Matt.

MATTHEW CASEY: Good morning, Mark.

BRODIE: So can you summarize these cases for us?

CASEY: Sure. One of them was filed in Arizona District Court by the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project and the ACLU. They're trying to force ICE to release eight people with serious health conditions from La Palma and the Eloy Detention Center. The other case was filed in D.C., Washington, D.C., but it involves four people held at La Palma. They want a timeout, so to speak, on in-person immigration court hearings and for the feds to develop policies to protect people going through the legal process during the pandemic.

BRODIE: Well, how exactly does that lawsuit from D.C. look to change the way the courts are operating?

CASEY: What they really want is the government to run the system in a way that minimizes human contact. So video conference, court hearings for detained people, private phone calls between lawyers and clients, and letting people reschedule court dates if they want to. They've asked for a restraining order to force these things to happen. And it looks like a hearing. It looks like a hearing on that will happen this coming Wednesday. One of the groups driving this case is the National Immigration Project that the National Lawyers Guild. Executive Director Sirine Shebaya says right now there's really just two bad options.

SIRINE SHEBAYA: Attorneys and people in detention are basically having to face significant health risks or significant violations of their due process rights.

BRODIE: Now, Matt, immigration lawyers, judges, even a union for ice attorneys, they've all demanded for a month now that the government do more to protect people from COVID-19. What have they done to this point?

CASEY: Well, the government has always stressed from day one this entire month that, you know, follow the CDC guidelines. They're following the CDC guidelines. Shebaya says certain steps have been taken. So, like, immigration courts are mostly paper, right. But at least one now lets attorneys file, file motions and whatnot via email. Others are letting lawyers take part by phone or reschedule hearings. The problem is that these policies are not uniform across the board. Shebaya says that makes for a messy situation, which some authorities seem to just want to push through.

SHEBAYA: I think immigration authorities have dug their heels in. They've made minor improvements, but they seem to be the only ones who are not recognizing the gravity of the situation.

BRODIE: Now, legal groups have also been stressing the gravity of a detainee with a health condition getting COVID-19. What is happening with the Arizona case that hopes to get them out?

CASEY: So I think what makes this case really extraordinary is that the Florence Project sued ICE and the wardens of these two detention facilities that it needs to be able to have access to in order to fulfill its mission, right. Which is informed people in detention of their legal rights. There have been other lawsuits around the country that have gotten people with health conditions released from detention. So I think those examples go strongly in the Florence Project's favor. The publication 'Roll Call' reported this week that ICE identified 600 people as vulnerable to COVID-19 and is considering their release on a case-by-case basis, but it's unclear if the folks at La Palma are among them.

BRODIE: All right. That is KJZZ's Matthew Casey. Matt, thank you.

CASEY: Thank you, Mark. 

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