Conditions at ICE detention centers and county incarceration facilities — where bunk beds are commonly three-feet or less apart, bathrooms are shared by large groups, and individuals are forced to be inches from each other, sometimes in chains — make it impossible to maintain the social distancing and hygienic standards that are the only defenses against COVID-19 outbreaks.

The vast majority of ICE transfers during the pandemic have been from state prisons and county jails — even people released as part of efforts to reduce the populations at those facilities have been turned over to ICE and sent to detention centers. These crowded centers, with a severe lack of proper hygiene and cleaning products, are rife for virus outbreaks. The situation has gotten so desperate that at several of the facilities detainees have gone on hunger strikes.

We filed this emergency lawsuit in California Supreme Court to force the governor and attorney general of California to halt transfers of individuals to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two organizations that advocate for the rights of individuals in the criminal justice and immigration systems — the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ), and the Southern California chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA SoCal).

Case developments

May 13, 2020
The California Supreme Court denied without prejudice the petition for writ of mandate. The court did not question the authority of the governor to take action to stop the transfers to the overcrowded detention centers where it's impossible — even by the federal government's admission — to allow for proper distancing and hygiene that are the only defenses against the spread of COVID-19.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Goodwin H. Liu, wrote, "I fear that today's order will unnecessarily delay resolution of issues with potentially dire consequences for inmates, correctional staff, the health care system, and our state as a whole." "The warning signs could not be more clear." Read the order.

May 1, 2020
Read the amicus curiae briefs filed by:

April 24, 2020
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of Southern California, Northern California, and San Diego and Imperial Counties filed this emergency lawsuit in California Supreme Court. Read the petition for writ of mandate.

Date filed

April 24, 2020


Supreme Court of California



Case number