ACLU & NWIRP File for Immediate Release of Medically Vulnerable People at Tacoma Northwest Detention Center

News Release: 
Friday, December 11, 2020
SEATTLE — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Washington, and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) filed a Temporary Restraining Order in its lawsuit Avendaño v. Asher today on behalf of immigrants detained at the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, Washington. The legal organizations seek the immediate release of people who are at high risk for serious illness or death in the event of COVID-19 infection, as well as court-ordered limits on facility population and regular, universal COVID-19 testing.

Since June, there have been 31 cases of COVID at NWDC, including four officers from for-profit provider GEO Group, and four ICE Health Service Corps employees. More than a third of these cases have been reported since November. This week, ICE reported the first case of COVID in a person detained in the general population units at the facility, after three medical staff members at the facility also tested positive for COVID-19.

Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, issued the following statement:

“Once COVID-19 begins circulating within an immigrant detention facility, it spreads rapidly. One study this year found that the immigration detention facilities had a COVID-19 rate that was more than 13 times the rate of the U.S. population. In lawsuits around the country, the ACLU has observed time and time again that ICE is willing to lie, recklessly transfer detained people, refuse to issue tests to keep positivity rates low, and otherwise obfuscate the situation. As we watch the positivity rates rise at NWDC, we urge the court to act swiftly and urgently. The failure to do so will cause needless illness, suffering, and possibly death.”

Matt Adams, Legal Director for NWIRP, issued the following statement:

“These latest positive tests make clear that the government cannot ensure the reasonable safety of our clients who are locked up at NWDC. Immediate action should be taken to protect those who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. We have seen the virus rage throughout other ICE facilities and know that spread within ICE facilities also exacerbates spread in surrounding communities. At a moment when COVID-19 is once again ravaging Tacoma and surrounding areas, it is imperative that courts act proactively to save lives and alleviate the strain on our medical infrastructure.”