The ACLU of Illinois has filed a lawsuit for the release of two ICE detainees who are in the McHenry County Jail and say the jail is not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in federal district court in Chicago on behalf of Souleymane Dembele and Muhammad Taufiq Butt.
The defendants named in the suit are McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim, McHenry County Jail Chief of Corrections Daniel Sitkie, U.S. ICE Chicago Field Office Director Robert Guadian, U.S. ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf.
The ACLU says that Dembele has lived and raised a family in the United States for almost a decade. He lives in fear for his life while detained on civil immigration charges at the jail because he suffers from medical conditions that put him at high risk of serious coronavirus complications, the ACLU said.
The suit seeks immediate, temporary release of the two detainees from the jail.
“Being in this jail during the coronavirus crisis is a nightmare,” Dembele said in a statement from the jail. “I have not been able to sleep or care for myself because I am constantly afraid of being exposed to the virus.”
“The conditions are not sanitary, and more than 60 people are regularly crammed into a common area, sharing tables and chairs. There is truly no social distancing,” he said.
McHenry County Sheriff Sgt. Aimee Knop, who is a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, told Lake and McHenry County Scanner that they had not seen the lawsuit yet and could not comment on it.
Dembele is under a doctor’s care for hypertension and pre-diabetes as he awaits disposition of his immigration case while the second plantiff, Muhammad Taufiq Buttwith, has similar medical conditions and is awaiting deportation.
The suit includes a declaration from Dr. Homer Venters, who speaks on how the medical conditions the two plaintiffs have place them at risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. Dr. Dora Schriro, a corrections expert and former senior ICE official, support their request for release with a declaration.
“COVID-19 is spreading through jails and prisons across the country like wildfire,” said Nusrat Jahan Choudhury, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois.
“ICE’s continued detention of Mr. Dembele is recklessly endangering his life. Keeping medically vulnerable people locked up in immigration detention is potentially lethal, and violates our most basic principles of fairness and protection from cruel punishment,” Choudhury said.
The ACLU said that Dembele is concerned about the lack of adequate sanitation, failure to screen people entering the facility and the lack of social distancing.
“It also is troubling that we are not being provided with appropriate information or equipment about how to protect ourselves from infection. We are not provided masks or gloves, even though we are not able to engage in social distancing,” Dembele said. “No one should be forced to live like this.”
“[The] McHenry County Jail is failing to meet the Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for protecting against the spread of the coronavirus in detention facilities,” the ACLU said.
In recent weeks, federal courts across the country have granted release to immigrants in county jails.
A court in Pennsylvania ordered the release of 33 medically vulnerable immigrants and courts in California, Michigan, New York and New Jersey have taken similar action.
Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project, said that this is the 18th lawsuit that the ACLU has filed against ICE around the country. She said that for their clients, a COVID-19 infection “likely means a death sentence.”