CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) ─ The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island has filed a class-action lawsuit against federal immigration officials and the Wyatt Detention Facility calling for the release of the 70 immigration detainees being housed there due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the past three days, the lawsuit states that the number of positive test results among Wyatt detainees jumped from 15 to 38, meaning cases have more than doubled.
The three detainees named in the lawsuit, according to the ACLU, are at “heightened risk of death or serious illness if infected with COVID-19” due to underlying medical conditions.
The ACLU argues that all of the immigration detainees being held at Wyatt are at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to the conditions at the facility, and their continued imprisonment under such conditions violates their due process rights.
“Conditions at Wyatt render social distancing impossible,” the lawsuit states.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU argues that immigration detainees at Wyatt remain housed with their cellmates in small cells “measuring approximately 5 feet by 9 feet” and are forced to eat as a group at small shared tables. The ACLU also claims that detainees share communal showers and telephones “that are not disinfected between uses.”
“Correctional officers and other Wyatt staff rotate regularly in and out of the facility, each potentially carrying additional infection from the outside world or other parts of the facility,” the lawsuit continued.
“We know, based on the many deaths that have occurred in various nursing homes in our state, that congregate living and COVID-19 are a deadly combination,” ACLU of Rhode Island attorney Deborah Gonzalez said. “Congregate living at Wyatt, where immigrant detainees are being held for civil offenses, is no different. The immigrants being held there should not be subject to a death sentence.”
Chris Hunter, a spokesperson for Wyatt, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but did say the facility has taken several steps to ensure the safety of its detainees and staff since the pandemic began.
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