Huge Class Action Suit Alert: Detained Migrants and Families Can Sue

On April 16, 2020, a California judge determined that a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could continue. Many articles on the subject claim that the plaintiffs seek no "monetary damages". However, it's very likely that members of the class in question will receive compensation upon a legal victory.

What Is the Suit?

This suit is based on widespread allegations that DHS and ICE knowingly committed cruel acts against people detained for crossing the Mexico-United States border illegally. The lawsuit is targeted specifically at the lack of basic medical care and mental health evaluations and treatment for those who needed it while in custody.

The defendants had attempted to make a class victory more difficult by requesting that the case be divided into 15 circuit court cases rather than one consolidated case. However, their motion was denied in court.

This lawsuit has been expedited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Southern Poverty Law Center noted that ICE is inadequately staffed to begin with and then kept strangers in close quarters even when COVID-19 had become a well-documented pandemic. A lawsuit that likely would have taken at least several more months to begin has finally come to fruition.

Who Can Join?

This lawsuit in particular is an indirect class action lawsuit because many members of the class do not speak fluent English or already have severe health complications due to cruelty during their detention. Those detained by DHS and ICE in a period of time yet to be determined and their families are considered "members" of the class action suit. Remember, while the plaintiffs themselves are requesting no monetary damages and only an end to these conditions for detainees, the victims and their families will almost certainly be compensated.

For this to happen, a victim or family member should reach out to one of the main plaintiffs in the case. These are major organizations, which so far are: The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), The Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), and The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC). While these organizations have lawyers of their own, two private law firms have volunteered to be the primary plaintiff engaged in the litigation pro bono. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP and Willkie Farr & Gallagher, LLP are the two firms who teamed up to make this possible.

There's a good chance that those currently detained have already automatically been enrolled in the "class". However, the motion to bar those from suing who have already been released was barred. This means that people who have recently been detained by ICE or DHS are eligible to join but are likely not automatically enrolled. Contacting either or both of the primary litigation law firms for the plaintiffs is highly recommended.

How Much Money Is Expected?

Most class action lawsuits have a simple "cap" on requested damages. This is then evenly distributed among the members of the class who have enrolled. This suit is odd in that there is no beginning cap, since no damages are requested. However, a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs is almost certain, opening DHS and ICE up to immediate other lawsuits that only members of this class can join.

In short, because of the volume of people affected and the severity of the allegations, it will be divided up into two court cases. The first is to prove guilt, and the second will likely be to demand a good amount of damages. However, a civil jury may still elect to provide damages in the initial case. If this does occur, then every member of the class will receive a proportionate amount of damages paid by DHS and ICE.

Going Forward

This lawsuit is very significant, since it involves two of the major "three letter" federal agencies and tens of thousands of individuals. Unfortunately, the wheels of justice turn slowly, so many questions will remain unanswered until there are future court sessions.

The most important takeaway from this lawsuit is that the reports saying that the plaintiffs are requesting no damages does not mean that people affected will not receive compensation. It's the sheer complexity and number of parties involved that will likely make compensation take awhile. The top priority of the suit is to first end this cruel treatment of people arrested by ICE.

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