Judge Rules in Miami Law’s Immigration Clinic Suit Against ICE

Handcuffed inmate in orange jumpsuit

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 23, 2020) – In a decision on a suit brought by the University of Miami’s immigration clinic, a federal magistrate in Miami instructed Wednesday that Immigration and Customs Enforcement substantially lower the populations in three South Florida detention centers due to the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19.

A lawsuit, filed by the clinic and partners on April 13, accuses U.S. immigration authorities of ignoring COVID-19 guidelines in three Florida detention centers and asked for release of the detained women and men. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman wrote, in his 69-page recommendation, that he did not have the authority to order the blanket release.

“Magistrate Judge Goodman has recommended to U.S. District Court Judge Cooke that the court order twice weekly reports on ICE’s progress on substantially reducing the number of people detained,” said the clinic's director Rebecca Sharpless. “This judicial oversight is sorely needed, as ICE continues to detain people in crowded conditions where people sleep and eat within less than six feet of one another. ICE refuses to release people with HIV, cancer, asthma, and other high-risk medical conditions.”

Joined by the Rapid Defense Network in New York, the Miami law firm Prada Urizar LPPC, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Legal Aid Service of Broward County, the suit charged that federal authorities are not individually segregating detainees who are infected or likely infected but instead housing people in group quarantine and cited cases in the three South Florida detention centers.

Miami Law second-year students, Katarina Gomez, Meredith Hoffman, Maria Llorens, Olivia Parise, and first-years Jacob Morse and Maria Piselli were part of the effort to research and prepare the suit.

"I spoke with several men via Skype and telephone from inside of the detention facilities, and they were petrified of contracting COVID-19, or even already displaying COVID-19 symptoms,” said Hoffman. "They had received no responses to their medical requests, no gloves, and no masks. They remain confined in close quarters, making it impossible for them to social distance. ICE should release them immediately.”

Miami Law’s Immigration Clinic provides a challenging opportunity for students to advocate on behalf of immigrants in a wide variety of complex immigration proceedings. The clinic, established in the fall of 2009 is dedicated to being an integral part of the wider immigrant and human rights advocacy community in South Florida and the nation.

“It’s been a true privilege to see the legal community of Miami come together and fight against a very dangerous situation that has been created in these detention centers. I hope our efforts are enough to create the significant change needed to protect these individuals lives in ICE’s custody,” said Parise.

The suit sought the release of detainees at the Krome Processing Center in Miami-Dade, the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, and the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven.

“The semester may be over, but this case is not,” said Sharpless. “We disagree that the court lacks jurisdiction to order release are filing objections to the magistrate report and recommendations. We expect a ruling from Judge Cooke next week.”