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Rivera v. Wolf

The New York Civil Liberties Union and Prisoners Legal Services of New York filed a motion to proceed with a federal class-action lawsuit against ICE officials at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, NY, demanding that they treat medically at-risk people in the facility in compliance with Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and a federal district court’s recent decision in Jones v. Wolf, in order to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

In Jones, the court determined that people being jailed in the Batavia Facility who were 65+ years old or otherwise considered medically at-risk to COVID-19-related complications by the CDC were entitled to protections designed to decrease their risk of contracting the virus, and that if the facility could not provide such protections the Constitution required that they be released.

At the time of filing, there were many people remaining in the facility who fit the criteria for these same protections whom ICE refuses to identify and refuses to protect. Protective measures for that group were only being implemented on an ad hoc basis when PLSNY attorneys were able to identify qualified people for ICE.

Months after filing, the NYCLU and PLSNY reached a settlement with ICE securing several protections. The settlement is tied to Judge Vilardo’s orders in the separate cases Jones v. Wolf, 20-cv-361 (W.D.N.Y.) and Ramsundar v. Wolf, 20-cv-402 (W.D.N.Y.), which are ongoing. These protections apply to all people detained at Batavia who meet the CDC’s criteria for vulnerability to serious illness from COVID-19. Though subject to change based on Judge Vilardo’s subsequent orders in Jones and Ramsundar, vulnerable persons at Batavia should be receiving: an individual cell (no roommates); biweekly testing of all consenting individuals in the vulnerable person’s housing unit for COVID-19; accommodation to eat meals in those cells; ability to bathe and shower in isolation; provision, without charge, of sufficient shower disinfectant, masks, and ample soap; requirement that all Batavia staff and officers wear masks whenever interacting with vulnerable persons.

If a vulnerable person is not receiving the benefits provided under the agreement, the district court (Judge Vilardo) has continuing jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the agreement. The NYCLU and Prisoner Legal Services are available to assist with motions to enforce the agreement where appropriate. All individuals detained at Batavia will receive notice of the agreement on the ICE-provided tablets.

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