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Lawsuit filed demanding ‘drastic reduction’ in people at Otay Mesa Detention Center amid COVID-19 outbreak

The lawsuit calls for the release of all people in custody at the Otay Mesa facility where a COVID-19 outbreak has infected both detainees and staff members.
Credit: ACLU San Diego via Twitter

OTAY MESA, San Diego —

Several civil rights and immigration organizations have filed a class-action lawsuit demanding a “drastic reduction” in the number of people at the Otay Mesa Detention Center where a COVID-19 outbreak has infected both detainees and staff members. The National Immigration Project, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, American Civil Liberties Union, and Ropes & Gray, LLP, filed the lawsuit together late Saturday in U.S. District Court.  

The lawsuit follows another filed last week by the ACLU San Diego chapter on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at the Otay and Imperial detention centers. 

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Plaintiffs named in Saturday’s lawsuit are detained persons held in U.S. Marshals’ custody. The lawsuit seeks an emergency restraining order calling for the release of all people in custody at the Otay Mesa facility. The lead plaintiffs include people with serious underlying medical conditions that place them at risk of severe illness or death if they contract COVID-19, according to the ACLU.  

“Continuing to detain people at Otay Mesa in the current circumstances is cruel and irresponsible,” said Sirine Shebaya, executive director of the National Immigration Project. “In the midst of a rapidly worsening COVID-19 outbreak, the facility is failing to take basic steps to protect the people in its custody, and in doing so, is exposing hundreds to serious illness or death.” 

The Otay Mesa Detention Center has had one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks at a detention center in the U.S., according to the local ACLU. As of Sunday, the organization said 111 people in custody had tested positive for the novel coronavirus along with eight medical staff, eight ICE employees at the facility and 17 staff members of CoreCivic – the private company that runs the facility.  

“Despite clear guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Marshals have failed to develop, much less implement, a plan of action sufficient to protect detained people, employees, and employee’s families and communities from this dangerous virus. Immediate court intervention is necessary to save lives and avert a public health disaster,” a statement from the ACLU read in part.