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Lambda Legal and Immigration Equality Urge ICE to Release Detainees Living with HIV

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April 27, 2020
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Today, Lambda Legal and Immigration Equality, along with co-counsel Vinson & Elkins, submitted a letter to ICE demanding the release of two asylum seekers living with HIV who are currently detained at the IAH Secure Detention Facility in eastern Texas. The men were severely persecuted in Cuba because of their political activism and sexual orientation. They have been detained in the U.S. since October 2019.

The legal advocates pointed to a court order filed this week in the U. S. District Court for the Central District of California that requires ICE to re-evaluate whether people with certain risk factors , including people living with HIV, should be released from ICE detention to prevent the risk of serious illness or death due to COVID-19.

“It is impossible for people held in ICE detention to abide by public health guidance about social distancing and frequent hand-washing when they have limited access to soap and cleaning materials and are in frequent contact in small spaces with people who have potentially been exposed to the coronavirus,” Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Puneet Cheema said. “While no one should be subjected to detention by ICE simply because they seek asylum in the United States, in this precarious and extraordinary period where people who are detained are at increased risk of being exposed to COVID-19, ICE must let our clients – who are asylum seekers living with HIV – go.”

“Ramón and Ivan fled Cuba to seek safety in the United States and now they fear for their lives,” said Bridget Crawford, Legal Director, Immigration Equality. “ICE could release them today. They are both parole eligible with qualifying sponsors. But despite warnings from experts on the dire consequences of COVID-19 for people in detention, and the steps taken by jails, prisons, and judges in the criminal context to release those in custody, ICE and DHS continue to put these men in mortal danger. Instead of being treated with dignity, these asylum seekers have been shackled, kept in the dark about the COVID-19 outbreak, and denied basic necessities to keep themselves safe.”

The clients in this matter are identified by pseudonyms as Ivan and Ramón to protect their identities. They are seeking humanitarian relief in the United States and are at risk of retaliation at the hands of their persecutors or by ICE and facility staff. Both Ivan and Ramón came to the United States seeking asylum from persecution due to their sexual orientation, political opinion and HIV status. They are currently detained at the IAH Secure Adult Detention Facility in South Livingston, TX.

Working on the case are Puneet Cheema, Avatara Smith-Carrington and Tara Borelli for Lambda Legal and Bridget Crawford for Immigration Equality, along with Thomas S. Leatherbury, Kent Piacenti, Lindsey Pryor, and Jeremy Gonzalez with Vinson & Elkins LLP.