SAN ANTONIO, TX – Civil rights attorneys are suing the federal government seeking the release of a medically vulnerable immigrant who was temporarily hospitalized and then returned to a Texas detention center where there are five confirmed cases of COVID-19 among detainees.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), the Law Office of Javier N. Maldonado, and the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on Thursday on behalf of Emeka Wilson-Metus, an immigrant detained at the South Texas ICE Processing Center, in Pearsall.
Wilson-Metus, 48, is an asylum seeker who suffers from several medical health problems that make him especially vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. He was taken to the Frio Regional Hospital on April 27, 2020 because his blood pressure had risen to uncontrollable levels because the medical staff at the detention center could not treat it. He has since been transferred back to the Pearsall facility but continues to suffer from high blood pressure.
“COVID-19 is moving quickly through the detention center,” stated Nina Perales, MALDEF Vice President of Litigation and counsel in the case. “Mr. Wilson-Metus is at grave risk of being seriously injured or dying, and detention center staff can neither manage his health nor provide him with adequate protective equipment.”
At issue are the conditions inside the detention center that U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for operating. Immigrants are detained in large rooms containing 40-50 individuals and sleep in bunk beds placed within arm’s reach of each other. As a result, immigrants at the detention center are unable to take the necessary preventive steps, such as frequently washing their hands, social distancing, or taking other recommended precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“As the pandemic continues to ravage immigration detention centers, federal courts have ordered ICE to release scores of vulnerable immigrants around the country,” said Efrén C. Olivares, Racial and Economic Justice Program Director at the Texas Civil Rights Project. “It is unconscionable that this administration continues to hold Mr. Wilson-Metus in conditions that put his life at risk, and we demand his immediate release.”
Attorneys for Wilson-Metus argue that federal officials are violating his constitutional rights by failing to ensure that the Pearsall facility follows recent guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and by failing to provide adequate medical care.
The lawsuit names officials at ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as defendants. Additional defendants include the warden of the South Texas ICE Processing Center and the San Antonio ICE field office director.
The suit claims that authorities’ failure to take steps to protect detainees from the coronavirus violates the immigrants’ rights under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Under the Fifth Amendment, the government must provide medical care and protect detainees from injury.
ICE has only tested 705 of the more than 30,000 immigrants in detention – a mere 2.3 percent. And of the 705 tested, more than half, or 375, tested positive for the virus, according to the lawsuit.
Read the complaint HERE