ACLU Calls for a Reduction in Population at Imperial Regional Detention Facility During COVID-19 Pandemic

June 12, 2020

Edward Sifuentes, ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, 619-501-3408,

IMPERIAL – Today, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC), together with Cooley LLP, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction seeking a reduction of the population inside the Imperial Regional Detention Facility (IRDF) as part of Rodriguez Alcantara v. Archambeault, a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

With this motion, the plaintiffs are seeking the immediate release of all medically vulnerable people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at IRDF, including all people ages 45 and older and those with underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk of serious illness or death due to COVID-19. The motion also requests a reduction of the population in each housing unit to allow people at the facility to practice proper social distancing, among other protective measures.

Multiple COVID-19 cases have been confirmed among detained people and staff at IRDF. The facility holds hundreds of people and is located just north of the California-Mexico border about 115 miles east of downtown San Diego. The lawsuit argues that immediate court intervention is necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus, save lives and preserve public health.

“ICE continues to blatantly disregard the health and safety of people in its custody, even months into a global pandemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives across the globe,” said Monika Y. Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney at the ACLUF-SDIC. “Court intervention is necessary to protect the lives of people at IRDF.”

Public health officials emphasize that maintaining a social distance is crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19, but conditions at IRDF make social distancing impossible.

Among the conditions at IRDF:

  • People continue to be transferred into IRDF.
  • Testing for COVID-19 is inconsistent.
  • Cells with capacity for four people are populated by three individuals at once with bunk beds fewer than six feet apart.
  • Individuals share sinks, toilets, telephones and showers with no consistent disinfection between use.
  • Mealtime is communal, with individuals forced to line up closely to receive their meals and choose between eating at overcrowded tables or in their cells, close to other detainees and toilets.

Putting people imprisoned at IRDF at such heightened risk of exposure to the virus is not only inhumane, it also violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids the government from confining people under conditions that unreasonably risk their health and safety.

“The human beings who are forced to live at IRDF are being exposed to an unacceptable and unjustifiable risk from COVID-19,” said Cooley partner John Hemann. “ICE has made clear by its actions that it has no intention to implement safety measures that medical science and experience with the virus have proven necessary to prevent the spread of infection. Without court intervention to force ICE to act responsibly, COVID-19 is likely to continue to spread within IRDF, jeopardize the lives of the people who live there, and overwhelm the local healthcare system.”

On April 30, the judge hearing the lawsuit ordered the release of dozens of people from the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, which has the largest COVID-19 outbreak of any ICE detention center in the country. Since the judge’s order, more than 90 people have been released from the facility.

Read the lawsuit here: