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That was the question facing detainees at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center at the onset of the pandemic.
Individuals held at the California immigration detention facility were forced to sleep, eat and bathe in cramped and overcrowded cells and dormitory units—often within arm’s length of one another. Social distancing was not an option. Masks and disinfectant were all but nonexistent. The center was a COVID-19 powder keg ready to explode.
Arguing that conditions at Adelanto put detainees at heightened risk of infection—constituting a violation of their Fifth Amendment right to reasonable safety in government custody—the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit demanding a drastic reduction of the facility’s population. The court granted the ACLU’s request for preliminary injunction and issued an order implementing a specialized bail application process for detainees to apply for release.
The order was a welcome victory. But the ACLU soon realized that implementing the new process—and getting detainees into safer conditions quickly—would be a major undertaking.
Loeb & Loeb was the first law firm to volunteer to help. And we did so with one of the largest cohorts of pro bono lawyers and staff involved in the project.
Over the next few months, our team recorded hundreds of hours assembling individual bail applications, gathering supportive evidence, reviewing government oppositions and preparing replies.
The new process wasn’t without its challenges—not least of which were the unprecedented circumstances created by the pandemic. We had to adapt on the fly. Loeb & Loeb’s team assisted detainees and their families with preparing written declarations remotely, confirming detainees’ release plans and corroborating that information with their sponsors. Working with individuals in detention also posed logistical hurdles—like trying to schedule legal calls while dormitories were on lockdown, or relying on the detention facility’s sluggish mailing process to obtain medical records.
In the end, more than 80 detainees were released as a result of the hard work of the ACLU, Loeb & Loeb lawyers and other law firms involved in the project. All within just six months.
Here at Loeb & Loeb, we’re grateful for the opportunity to partner with the ACLU to help ensure that the weight of this health crisis does not fall unfairly on our most vulnerable communities. We’re all in this together.