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Celimen Savino, et al. v. Souza
On March 27, 2020, Maria Alejandra Celimen Savino and Julio Cesar Medeiros Neves, two immigrants detained at Bristol County House of Correction in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, filed suit on behalf of themselves and a class of all other persons held by ICE at Bristol. The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, seeks the emergency release of each member of the class because of the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and a ban on any new ICE admissions to the jail. Petitioners are represented by the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, Lawyers for Civil Rights, and WilmerHale.
All those in civil immigration detention at Bristol are at imminent risk of COVID-19 infection. This risk has been exacerbated by the cruel and inhumane conditions to which the government has subjected them: jail staff who report to work with coronavirus symptoms, and new ICE admissions transferred into the facility – amidst the contagion – without meaningful medical testing or screening. Even after a recently-arrived individual fell severely ill, Bristol County and ICE failed to provide adequate sanitizer, disinfectant, or toilet paper. The immigrants bringing this case are trapped, and subject to imminent infection, illness and death.
Judge William G. Young provisionally certified five subclasses and began considering each person individually for admission to bail pending the litigation. On April 8, Judge Young issued an opinion certifying a class of all civil immigration detainees held at Bristol County. The Court rejected the government’s assertion that immigrants in detention cannot bring this lawsuit because no COVID-19 cases have yet been found among the population. On April 15, the Court denied the government’s motion to stay all further releases, explaining "We are in the midst of a pandemic unprecedented in our lifetime… Moreover, compelling issues of individual, institutional, and community health preclude the luxury of a stay so counsel can 'consider their appellate options.'”
On May 7, the Court held a hearing on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction and found that the government likely acted with deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of serious harm faced by class members. In a subsequent written opinion, Judge Young explained that “where life hangs upon a carefully drawn line, [the government] opt[s] for near blanket incarceration. That is evidence of deliberate indifference.” The Court ordered that (1) all individuals in immigration detention at Bristol as well as all staff who come into contact with them be tested for COVID-19 as soon as reasonably possible; (2) no new individuals be admitted to immigration detention at Bristol; and (3) no transfers be made from Bristol to another facility until the required testing has taken place and come back negative.
The government moved unsuccessfully for reconsideration. In denying the motion, Judge Young characterized the government’s account as “fanciful” and compared its refusal to de-densify, test, or contact trace as “like a NASCAR driver who spurns a seatbelt and helmet because she plans not to crash.”
Separately, the government has filed a notice appealing the bail orders and the class certification to the First Circuit.
As of June 23, 50 people have been released from Bristol County as a result of this lawsuit, and the population of persons held by ICE at Bristol County has declined from 148 to 65 persons (55%) since the case began. Not all of those released have a health risk that falls within a CDC high-risk category, making this one of the first cases in the country where a court has not relied on individualized medical risk when making humanitarian release determinations.
The Court continues to take under advisement individual applications for bail and the issue of sanitation at BCHOC.
On June 11, the clinic and LCR submitted a complaint to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Dartmouth Board of Health on behalf of eight community organizations, regarding ongoing violations of state public health statutes and regulations.