UCI Law Immigrant Rights Clinic Secures Release of Individuals in Immigration Detention Facing COVID-19 Risk


IRVINE, Calif. (April 10, 2020) — Over the past week, students and faculty with the University of California, Irvine School of Law (UCI Law) Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) have filed three petitions for writs of habeas corpus on behalf of immigrants detained at the Adelanto ICE Detention Facility in Adelanto, California who are at heightened risk of becoming ill from COVID-19 in custody. In each case, IRC also filed an application for a temporary restraining order seeking the immediate release of its clients. A federal judge has already ordered the release of two of the immigrants and advocates hope the judge will soon order the release of the third.

The two individuals who have already been ordered released are Sigifredo Zendejas Lopez and Sergio Jonathan Moreno. Both men are long-time residents of Southern California who have strong ties to the region. They are represented in their immigration proceedings by Public Law Center, with whom IRC co-counseled the habeas petitions.

“I’m so thrilled to hear that our clients will be able to return home. Their families have been suffering without them,” said UCI Law 2L Angelina Caplanis, one of the students who has been working on the cases. “I am also grateful that the judge acted quickly in light of the dangerous conditions at Adelanto and the threat to our clients’ constitutional rights.”

In a third case, IRC is seeking the release of a 21-year-old man, “Francisco,” whose mental health has deteriorated while in detention. Students were able to quickly raise funds for Francisco to be released to a residential care facility should his application for a temporary restraining order be successful.

“It is no secret that the effects of COVID-19 have not been felt equally across society,” said Clinical Fellow Caitlin Bellis, “Experts have described immigration detention centers as a ‘tinderbox,’ saying it’s only a matter of time until a deadly outbreak strikes. It’s a relief that our clients are going to be released, but it shouldn’t take a court order; ICE should release people voluntarily.”

Other students working on the petitions include 2L students Erik Jimenez Rodriguez, Samuel Johnson, Sarah Kahn, and Amruta Trivedi. They are being supervised by Bellis, Prof. Annie Lai, and Visiting Prof. Mónica Almadani Ramírez. All cases allege that the federal government’s detention of immigrants in crowded, unsanitary conditions at Adelanto amount to a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The third case also alleges that ICE failed to comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federal programs.

About the University of California, Irvine School of Law

The University of California, Irvine School of Law is a visionary law school and provides an innovative and comprehensive curriculum, prioritizes public service, and demonstrates a commitment to diversity within the legal profession. UCI Law students have completed more than 100,000 hours of pro bono work in the past decade. Forty-five percent of UCI Law’s graduates are students of color. The collaborative and interdisciplinary community at UCI Law includes extraordinary students, world-renowned faculty, engaged alumni, and enthusiastic supporters. More information on UCI Law is available here. Please follow us on Twitter and Instagram @ucilaw and SnapChat: ucilaw.

Media Contact:

Mojgan Sherkat