Meeting the Moment, Student News

UCLA Law Magazine | Fall 2020

Criminal Defense Clinic Secures Release of Inmate Threatened by COVID-19

Photo by Chris Carlson/AP/Shutterstock

Students and faculty members with UCLA School of Law’s Criminal Defense Clinic played a key role in securing the April release of an at-risk inmate from a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement processing center as part of the clinic’s broader effort to reduce the acute risks to prisoners from the coronavirus.

The clinic filed a habeas corpus petition in federal court, arguing that the conditions in which their client was being held at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County were unconstitutional because the facility is unable to protect individuals in civil detention from COVID-19 infection. On April 10, Judge Terry Hatter Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted the clinic’s request for a temporary restraining order. Their client was released the same day.

“The court’s order releasing our client recognizes that immigration detention centers like Adelanto cannot protect individuals from serious risk of infection,” says Professor Ingrid Eagly, who co-directs the clinic with Professor Julie Cramer ’03.

Housing almost 2,000 individuals, Adelanto is one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country and has a record of failing to meet minimal requirements for health care. As of April 17, there were 105 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among individuals held in immigration detention in the United States, and 25 detention center employees had also fallen ill.

“We are so pleased that our client has been released and is able to return to the safety of his family,” says student Yuri Han ’20, a member of the clinic who is pursuing a joint degree in law and public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Launched in 2009, the Criminal Defense Clinic allows students to work under the supervision of law school faculty on real cases and problems facing individuals charged with crimes. Students enrolled in the clinic are trained to provide client-centered representation for individuals in the criminal legal system and immigration courts.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the clinic have worked with local community groups on advocacy efforts to persuade ICE to release individuals from detention and stop the transfers of Los Angeles residents from L.A. County jails to Adelanto. The clinic also joined with other law school clinical programs in sending a letter to Christopher Santoro, the country’s acting chief immigration judge, urging the U.S. Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review to release individuals held in detention and to temporarily close immigration courts and stop the issuance of removal orders.

“Public health experts agree that cramped conditions and poor health care make immigration detention literally a tinderbox for spreading this deadly virus,” says UCLA Law student Eunice Kang ’20, who helped draft court documents in the recent case.

Earlier this year, students in the clinic participated in a collaborative project, supported by a grant from the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, with Glendale-based immigration attorney Pasquale Lombardo to represent individuals held in Adelanto at their bond hearings.

Representation at bond hearings is a critical need in the immigrant community because without it, individuals can remain detained, sometimes for years, while their cases are litigated. A national study of representation in immigration court by Eagly and UCLA Law alumnus Steven Shafer ’15 showed that most immigrants in detention lack representation by counsel, presenting serious barriers to due process.

Students David Clingman ’20, Tori Lew ’20 and Laura Perry ’21, who worked on bond cases this semester, also contributed to the recent habeas petition litigation.

Says Cramer, “It has been inspirational to see our clinic students continue our work remotely to protect our clients from the dangerous COVID-19 virus.”