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May 13, 2020

Kelvin was transferred to ICE and held at the Adelanto ICE detention center, where he was separated from his family and afraid for his health.

SACRAMENTO — The California Supreme Court today rejected a lawsuit that would have forced the governor to halt the transfer of individuals from state prisons and county jails to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers that are potential death traps due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The court did not, however, question the authority of the governor to take such action to stop the transfers to the overcrowded detention centers where it is impossible — even by the federal government’s admission — to allow for proper distancing and hygiene that are the only defenses against the spread of COVID-19.

Just last week, California’s Otay Mesa immigration detention facility bore the unfortunate distinction of being the first in the country to have an individual die in its custody die of COVID-19.

The urgency of the matter was spotlighted in a dissenting opinion issued today by Justice Goodwin H. Liu, who said, “I fear that today’s order will unnecessarily delay resolution of issues with potentially dire consequences for inmates, correctional staff, the health care system, and our state as a whole.”

“The warning signs could not be more clear,” Liu continued. “The Governor and Attorney General bear responsibility for the substantial risk of serious harm that ICE transfers pose to persons in state and local custody…we owe it to the parties and the public to resolve the heart of the matter.”

The lawsuit was filed on April 24 by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of Southern California, Northern California, and San Diego and Imperial Counties.

“The highest court’s refusal to engage with the urgent issue of the state’s continuing transfers to ICE custody during this pandemic is disappointing,” said Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights at the ACLU SoCal. “But it does not change the fact that the governor and the attorney general have a moral and constitutional obligation to stop transferring people to ICE custody during the pandemic. California cannot pretend it is not responsible for the virus’s spread and the loss of life in ICE’s detention facilities.”

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two organizations that advocate for the rights of individuals in the criminal justice and immigration systems — the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ) and the Southern California chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA SoCal).

Here are video interviews with two people who were transferred into ICE custody by local law enforcement agencies:

    • Lopez, who is immunocompromised, was recently released from the Adelanto center.
    • Hernandez Roman was recently released from Adelanto.

See the ACLU’s public petition to the governor to halt transfers to ICE:

Read the Supreme Court decision: