RELEASE: ICE Refuses to Release Detained HIV-Positive Asylum Seekers Despite Life-Threatening COVID-19 Risk

New York, NY (March 23, 2020)  Today, Immigration Equality filed a complaint with the office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, calling for the immediate release of all people living with HIV in ICE detention, citing grossly negligent medical care and grave risk to their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The six named complainants are all asylum seekers who fled persecution based on their sexual orientation, political opinion, and HIV-status, and despite being parole eligible with a qualifying sponsor, were denied release. These cases exemplify the systemic failures by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection to provide safe conditions for all HIV-positive individuals.  

“Our community has faced a life-threatening pandemic before. Then, as now, we raised the alarm with government officials who did nothing until we forced them to,” said Aaron C. Morris, Executive Director of Immigration Equality. “We cannot allow the negligence of the federal government to let our people die again. All people living with HIV must be released from immigration detention immediately. Every day DHS waits will have fatal consequences.”  

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people living with HIV with a low CD4 count—which indicates a weakened immune system—are much more vulnerable to being infected with COVID-19 and more likely to suffer serious health consequences than the general population. The already extremely poor medical care in ICE detention combined with the effects of COVID-19 could lead to countless deaths of detained HIV-positive individuals. 

“DHS has fallen so appallingly short of the Constitutionally mandated basic duty of care for people in detention that they are violating the law every day,” said Bridget Crawford, Legal Director of Immigration Equality. “The accounts we have heard from detained people living with HIV have been outrageous. Some of them have gone without medication for weeks or even months. Others have been told to expect soap shortages. This is a COVID-19 nightmare.” 

The complaint, based on reports from current and former HIV-positive detained people expose the following patterns of medical negligence in ICE and CBP facilities: 

  • Deficient treatment – Interruptions in HIV medication for up to months at a time, inconsistent administration of HIV medication, and uninformed changes in HIV medication, all of which can lead to drug resistance and serious side effects.  
  • Unqualified health care providers – Lack of access to HIV specialists who are qualified to treat HIV, and lack of interpreters at medical appointments. 
  • Unhygienic conditions – Inadequate hand washing stations, lack of soap, no access to hand sanitizer, and poor sanitation. Overcrowding which leads to the impossibility of social distancing. 
  • Lack of access to health information – Complete denial of access to medical records, preventing people living with HIV from monitoring their own health status. Failure to provide information on COVID-19 and how to prevent transmission. 


Immigration Equality is the nation’s leading LGBTQ immigrant rights organization. We represent and advocate for people from around the world fleeing violence, abuse, and persecution because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.