Miami Law’s Immigration Clinic Wins Order to Release Hundreds of Detainees

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Zoom meeting with clinic students

Immigration Clinic students Maria Llorens, Olivia Parise, Meredith Hoffman, and Katarina Gomez

A federal judge ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to reduce by hundreds the number of people detained in three Florida detention centers, in response to a lawsuit led by the University of Miami School of Law’s Immigration Clinic.

The lawsuit, filed by the clinic and partners on April 13, accused U.S. immigration authorities of ignoring COVID-19 guidelines at the facilities and asked for release of the detained women and men.

“We hope that the court’s strongly worded order spurs ICE into immediately releasing people in large numbers,” said Immigration Clinic Director Rebecca Sharpless in an interview with the Miami Herald. “The worry is that ICE will instead evade the clear intention of the court by transferring people to other detention centers.”

U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke accused the immigration agency of acting with “deliberate indifference” with regard to the detainees, in her terse 12-page order. She gave the agency three days to advise the court of its plans to release the non-criminal and medically vulnerable detainees. She also ordered that ICE will distribute masks within two days to all detainees, replacing them weekly.

Miami Law rising third-year students, Katarina Gomez, Meredith Hoffman, Maria Llorens, Olivia Parise, and rising second-years Jacob Morse and Maria Piselli were part of the effort to research and prepare the suit.

"While the order could go further in demanding that ICE release detainees to improve conditions and prevent deaths from COVID-19,” said Llorens, “it’s a good step in acknowledging that their actions thus far have been completely inadequate."

Miami Law’s Immigration Clinic provides a challenging opportunity for students to advocate on behalf of immigrants in a wide variety of complex immigration proceedings. The clinic, established in the fall of 2009 is dedicated to being an integral part of the wider immigrant and human rights advocacy community in South Florida and the nation.

“The order has shown that men and women at these three detention centers that they are being seen and they are being heard,” said Gomez. “It is morally, and now legally, unacceptable for ICE to maintain the cruel and dangerous conditions at these facilities.”

Joined by the law firm of King & Spalding, Rapid Defense Network in New York, the Miami law firm Prada Urizar LPPC, Southern Poverty Law Center, the Legal Aid Service of Broward County, and Americans for Immigrant Justice, the suit charged that federal authorities are not individually segregating detainees who are infected or likely infected but instead housing people in group quarantine and cited cases in the three South Florida detention centers.

“ICE has created hotbeds of COVID-19 by confining immigrants in crowded facilities with inadequate medical attention, a lack of protective equipment, and even minimal soap, said Hoffman. “The agency should release people immediately to prevent the further spread of this global pandemic.”

The suit sought the release of detainees at the Krome Processing Center in Miami-Dade, the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, and the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven.

“It’s been a true privilege to see the legal community of Miami come together and fight against a very dangerous situation that has been created in these detention centers. I hope our efforts are enough to create the significant change needed to protect these individuals lives in ICE’s custody,” said Parise.