Civil rights and immigration groups sued Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, raising allegations, sharply denied by Hodgson, that immigrants in civil detention in Bristol County are being exposed to the coronavirus with no health protections.
The lawsuit unveiled Friday by Lawyers for Civil Rights, Yale Law School's Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, and the Brazilian Worker Center, involves Maria Alejandra and Julio Cesar, immigrants who suffer from asthma and from depression and anxiety, respectively.
Advocates say those conditions make them particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.
"Even after one of the individuals who recently arrived fell severely ill, Bristol County and ICE failed to provide sanitizer or disinfectant," the groups wrote in a press release. "The immigrants bringing this case are literally trapped, and subject to imminent infection, illness and death because of their detention conditions under Sheriff Hodgson and ICE."
The plaintiffs are seeking to force ICE to release the immigrants on alternative forms of detention, such as supervised release or electronic ankle monitors, to limit detainees' risks of contracting COVID-19.
Hodgson's office described the suit as "absurd and completely frivolous" and said he does not have authority as a sheriff to release ICE detainees.
"Claiming they have no toilet paper or sanitizer, claiming we admit people without health screenings … it's laughable how false these lies are," his office said. "Filing this lawsuit is a waste of the paper and ink it is printed on, and a waste of the time of the people who penned it and those who have to react to it."