Sidley and National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) lawyers achieved a series of three significant pro bono victories on behalf of three individuals detained at a county correctional facility amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. A cross-office team of Sidley lawyers, along with NIJC lawyers, filed three lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois on behalf of detainees in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who were being held at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee, Illinois. The individuals sought release from detention because they face severe risk as the COVID-19 virus spreads through Illinois. The lawsuits detail the conditions immigrants face while in detention, often spending most of their time in close confinement with other inmates without personal protective equipment and a lack of basic information regarding the spread of the virus, as well as these individuals’ underlying medical conditions.
Within 24 hours of the first filing, U.S. District Court Judge Sara L. Darrow held an emergency hearing on April 9, 2020 and then ordered the immediate release of Sidley’s client. In a second hearing on April 10, 2020 before U.S. District Court Judge Sue E. Myerscough, the team once again prevailed and the court ordered the detention center to release him immediately. The individual was a father of three children, suffered from underlying medical conditions, and had a pending petition to obtain lawful permanent residence. Unfortunately, his interview was postponed when the immigration office closed due to the pandemic. Finally, on April 13, 2020, the Sidley team argued on behalf of our third pro bono client, an 18-year old asylum seeker who entered the United States as an unaccompanied minor. Judge Myerscough again ruled in the team’s favor for immediate release of our client.
As the releases of the detainees were pursuant to temporary restraining orders, the Sidley team brought both a due process claim for deliberate indifference to our clients’ serious medical needs, as well as due process claims for unconstitutionally prolonged detention so that their releases would not be limited to the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. After briefing the merits of each of the petitions, on April 23, Judge Darrow granted the continued release of our client with multiple preexisting health conditions who had been detained for nearly a year. On May 4, Judge Myerscough granted our other two clients’ petitions in lengthy opinions issued just hours apart. In both cases, Judge Myerscough granted our clients’ continued release, specifically ruling that their release was to extend beyond the pandemic, and capping off three noteworthy victories for detainees at this facility in an effort to protect immigrants’ lives in the midst of a dangerous global event.
The Sidley pro bono team was led by Michelle A. Ramirez, along with Kelly J. Huggins, Michaela Kabat, Radhika Kannan, Hao Zhu, Julia Krimmel, Barbara Nihill and Arturo Rodriguez. Sidley worked alongside members of the NIJC and Sidley alumna Kelly Kribs.