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A federal district court in Indiana has allowed a lawsuit filed by individuals who endured terrible conditions at the Clay County Jail to proceed. Represented by attorneys from the National Immigrant Justice Center and Sidley Austin LLP, plaintiffs Maribel Xirum, Javier Jaimes Jaimes, and Baijebo Toe seek to represent a class of all individuals detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the jail.  

In a March 29 decision, the court permitted plaintiffs to proceed with their claim that ICE violated the Administrative Procedure Act by improperly certifying the jail as compliant with national detention standards during ICE’s mandatory evaluation of the jail in December 2021. 

“NIJC celebrates the court’s decision as an important first step toward holding ICE accountable for its egregious abdication of its responsibility to ensure that conditions in facilities where people are detained meet even the minimum standards,” said Mark Feldman, a senior litigation attorney at NIJC. “The overall message is clear: ICE cannot rely on discredited inspection practices and turn a blind eye to blatant violations of its detention standards while noncitizens in ICE custody suffer in inhumane conditions.” 

As the court recognized, ICE is required by law to conduct an overall performance evaluation of the jail to ensure compliance with ICE’s detention standards. Conditions at the jail were so abysmal that it failed a mandatory inspection in May 2021 by ICE’s third-party inspector, Nakamoto Group — a company that was stripped of its duties by Congress because it lacked  “credibility and competence” for oversight work. Indeed, the court cited statements by ICE officials that Nakamoto’s inspections are “very, very, very difficult to fail.”  

Because the jail failed the May 2021 inspection, a second consecutive failing grade in December 2021 “would have required ICE to cease holding noncitizens at the Jail.” As Nakamoto found, conditions at the jail in December 2021 remained “unacceptable.” Nevertheless, ICE ultimately certified the jail as compliant with detention standards based on Nakamoto’s inspection, allowing the jail to continue detaining noncitizens. In allowing the plaintiffs’ claim to go forward, the court rejected ICE’s arguments that detained noncitizens lacked jurisdiction to challenge the agency’s inspection process and the outcomes of jail inspections. The court also rejected ICE’s attempt to rely on an informal, partial inspection to get around the congressional requirement that any two consecutive failed overall performance evaluations “would have required ICE to cease holding noncitizens at the Jail.” 

The court also provided guidance regarding how to challenge the county’s misuse of federal payments for county expenditures unrelated to the care and custody of noncitizens at the jail. For example, the county failed to meet critical needs of immigrants detained at the jail while publicly acknowledging that the money it received from ICE was instead used to pay for unrelated expenses including “a new $83,000 chiller for the Clay County courthouse.” In addressing these payments, the district court recognized that “the allegations against Clay County concerning the deplorable conditions of the Jail are indeed serious,” and that ICE and the county government had each renounced responsibility for complying with the Intergovernmental Service Agreement that governs funding and detention.  

Among other things, the court cited allegations that the jail was “filthy” and “covered in mold and graffiti, that the toilets and showers were often broken, that noncitizens were not given enough food to eat, and that they experienced delayed or inadequate medical care. The court also noted allegations that Nakamoto “turned a blind eye” to other deficiencies at the jail, in keeping with well-documented flaws in Nakamoto’s inspection process. The court has allowed plaintiffs to refine their claims to challenge this “strategic blame-shifting” and allege “a complete abdication of ICE’s responsibility to enforce applicable laws and regulations.” 

“The court’s decision confirms that plaintiffs have identified a serious violation of law in ICE’s detention operations at the Clay County Jail,” said Greg Cui, a managing associate at Sidley Austin. “We will continue to pursue all available relief for plaintiffs and the other members of the class who remain detained there.” 

Read more about the Xirum et al. v. ICE et al. case.