Media Contact

Katie Hoeppner, or 505-266-5915 x1013

April 20, 2020

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of New Mexico sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement today on behalf of immigrants detained in Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, New Mexico. The ACLU seeks the release of three individuals who, as a result of underlying medical conditions, are at high risk for serious illness or death in the event of COVID-19 infection. The legal complaint argues that continuing to detain them in civil immigration detention despite serious risk to their health and safety amounts to punishment and violates their due process rights. 

“Otero County Processing Center has a history of abuse and medical neglect,” said Joachim Marjon, immigrant rights attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico. “The facility has demonstrated time and time again that it cannot protect people in normal times, let alone in times of crisis. That’s why it’s imperative that ICE immediately release our clients, who are particularly vulnerable to severe illness or death from the virus. Failure to do is not only unconstitutional — it needlessly endangers the lives of all immigrant detainees, staff, and surrounding communities.”

The filing in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico includes testimony from the three immigrant detainees who suffer from underlying medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure, which the CDC has warned puts people at higher risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19. Otero County Processing Center, where all three individuals are detained, already has two known cases of the virus. The ACLU’s clients, along with several other immigrant detainees, have complained that the facility is overcrowded and lacks access to basic sanitation supplies necessary for protecting against infection.

“This is one of more than twenty lawsuits the ACLU has filed against ICE in states around the country," said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU's National Prison Project. "Public health experts have been clear that detention centers are tinderboxes for the spread of COVID-19. For our clients, an infection will likely be a death sentence. It is unconscionable to keep people detained under these circumstances. We will keep fighting for our clients' right to health and safety."

A copy of the complaint is available below.