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Updated June 9, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic paralyzes the nation, the administration persists in widespread civil immigration enforcement and detention despite clear warnings to the contrary from public health experts. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) apprehended and detained more than 19,000 individuals in the month of March, right as COVID-19 infections began to spike throughout the U.S. Nearly 30,000 people were in ICE's custody in early May, all facing civil violations, even as confirmed cases of COVID-19 in immigration detention skyrocket, and despite the first confirmed death in custody on May 6, 2020.

At NIJC we are frightened for the lives of our clients who remain behind bars as the virus spreads throughout ICE detention. ICE has largely met our pleas for our clients’ release with intransigence. We are therefore bringing our fight for their lives and the broader public health to the federal courts, seeking release for our clients most at risk of COVID-19 by filing a habeas petition. We have gone to the federal courts because ICE has left us with no choice, denying administrative requests for release. And across the board, our clients report that ICE has categorically denied them the ability to meaningfully engage in precautionary measures to protect against the virus. They lack meaningful access to soap, hygiene products, and endure crowded conditions that do not allow for a modicum of social distancing.

The Petitioners

While some clients prefer to keep their names and stories private, the following individuals have agreed to share their stories here:


Delome Johannes Favi: At High Risk Due to Medical History, Separated from His Wife and Children

Mr. Favi is a 32-year-old father of three young children who suffers from respiratory and sinus problems and high blood pressure. His U.S. citizen wife submitted a petition last year for him to obtain lawful permanent residence. The couple’s interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services regarding the application was scheduled for March but was postponed when the immigration office closed due to the pandemic. Mr. Favi was detained for more than nine months while awaiting the adjudication of his immigration petition. NIJC and the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP filed a habeas petition for Mr. Favi’s release on April 7, which was granted days later, allowing him to reunite with his wife and children.

Mr. Favi's relevant documents:

Juan Manuel Hernandez: Released after More Than a Year in Immigration Jail 

Juan Manuel Hernandez is  a 46-year-old heart attack survivor who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as breathing problems resulting from smoke inhalation during a house fire. He has lived in Illinois for more than 30 years and was detained by ICE for more than eight months because he was unable to afford a $2,000 bond set by an immigration judge. Mr. Hernandez’s wife, who has significant medical needs, lived in a nursing care facility during his detention, where she also was at heightened risk for COVID-19 infection. Mr. Hernandez's release meant he could help take care of his wife. After attorneys at NIJC and Sidley Austin LLP filed a petition on Mr. Hernandez’s behalf on April 8, the court immediately scheduled an emergency hearing for him the next day. At the hearing, the court ordered the detention center to release Mr. Hernandez. Both he and his wife were able to return home.

Mr. Hernandez's relevant documents:


Francisco Morales Torres: Granted Immigration Protection Twice, but In Detention While ICE Appeals

Francisco Morales Torres is a 26-year-old man who has lived in the United States since he was 13 years old. An immigration judge has twice ruled in favor of granting him immigration protection, but he was detained by ICE for more than 18 months while the government sought to appeal those rulings. Mr. Morales Torres suffers from mental illness including severe depression and anxiety that was been exacerbated by the stress he experienced due to being incarcerated at Dodge County Detention Center in Wisconsin, where he was unable to protect himself during the pandemic. Mr. Morales Torres was represented by attorneys at NIJC, who filed his petition on April 17 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. His petition was granted on May 5, and he was released soon after on an immigration bond.

Mr. Morales Torres's relevant documents:


Alfredo Chavez Garcia: Widowed Father of Six At High Risk Due to Medical History

Alfredo Chavez Garcia is a 49-year-old widowed father of six who has lived in the United States for nearly 40 years and has diabetes and high blood pressure. He was detained at Pulaski County Jail in Illinois for nearly a year, awaiting adjudication of his immigration case, which had been delayed because COVID-19 had slowed the processing of most immigration applications in the United States to a near halt. Meanwhile, Mr. Chavez Garcia faces grave risk for complications if he becomes infected with COVID-19. ICE had confirmed that several immigrants and employees at the jail had tested positive for the virus at the time Mr. Chavez Garcia filed his habeas petition. Mr. Chavez Garcia was represented by pro bono attorneys from NIJC and Sidley Austin LLP, who filed his petition on April 15 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. The federal court ordered his release on April 27.

Mr. Chavez Garca's relevant documents:


NIJC is relieved by the release of these vulnerable individuals and is committed to fighting for the same outcome for our other clients.

Additional COVID-10-related habeas filings

Some of NIJC’s additional habeas requests have been filed on behalf of: 

  1. Jose, a severely mentally ill man who has been detained by ICE for four years and remains detained even though an immigration judge previously granted protection and the Ninth Circuit granted his petition for review. (Case filed with Munger Tolles & Olson LLP and Immigrant Legal Defense)
  2. Deepak, a severely mentally ill man who has been detained by ICE for 2 ½ years even though an immigration judge granted protection and his case has been remanded from the Ninth Circuit. (Case filed with Munger Tolles & Olson LLP and Helen Lawrence)
  3. Kelly, a transgender asylum seeker who has been detained for more than two years despite having a strong claim for protection and no criminal convictions. (Case filed with Jones Day)
  4. Gustavo, a gay male asylum seeker who contracted COVID-19 while in Otay Mesa and remains detained even though he is no longer contagious and continuing to recover from the virus. (Case filed with Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP)

As of June 9, 2020, NIJC has filed habeas petitions in 17 separate cases, and will continue to push for the release of our most vulnerable clients.

In the Media

NIJC Press Releases:

Kankakee, Illinois: NIJC Sues Illinois Jails Jail to Release Immigrants in ICE Custody Who Face Severe Risk During COVID-19 Pandemic (April 10, 2020) 

San Diego: Federal Government Must Release Immigrants In Deteriorating Conditions at San Diego Federal Detention Facilities During COVID-19 Pandemic (April 9, 2020)

Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas and California: More Immigrants Sue ICE To Seek Release From Detention Centers Throughout U.S. (April 22, 2020)


News Coverage:

Associated Press: Chicago group seeks detained immigrants’ release in pandemic (June 14, 2020)

Chicago Sun-Times: Chicago man surprises mom on Mother’s Day after being released from immigration detention (May 10, 2020)

Chicago Sun-Times: Chicago man who’s been granted asylum sues ICE for release from detention center (April 29, 2020)

The Southern Illinoisan: Officials tight-lipped on Pulaski County Detention Center outbreak as detainees fear for their lives (April 25, 2020)

WBEZ: Detained Immigrants Turn To The Courts To Protect Themselves From COVID-19 (April 23, 2020)

Kankakee Daily Journal: Federal court releases 3 ICE detainees from county jail  (April 18, 2020)