Ballard Spahr recently teamed up with the Transgender Law Center (TLC) and the Rapid Defense Network to file a class action lawsuit demanding the release of all transgender detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ballard Spahr attorneys are working on the matter pro bono.

ICE has publicly reported nearly 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in more than 30 ICE detention centers across the country. At least 10 facilities where transgender people are being detained have reported outbreaks. The lawsuit alleges that these conditions in the detention centers violate the Fifth Amendment due process rights of the transgender people being detained, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act.

Transgender migrants face widespread persecution and social stigma and are therefore more likely to have underlying health conditions—such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and immune suppression caused by living with HIV or viral hepatitis—that put them at a higher risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19. They are also far more likely to suffer from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder because of the stresses of migration, endemic discrimination, and a lack of comprehensive gender-affirming medical care.

“Transgender people in civil immigration detention not only have to endure the unjustifiably harsh conditions facing everyone in ICE custody, they often experience inadequate medical care, harassment, and even violence because of their gender identities,” said Ballard Spahr lawyer Matthew E. Kelley. “My Ballard Spahr colleagues and I are honored to fight for their release during the COVID-19 crisis, which exposes them to life-threatening conditions.”

In addition to Mr. Kelley, the Ballard Spahr team includes Partner Leslie E. John and Associates Elizabeth P. Weissert and Alexa L. Levy. Ms. Weissert is the co-leader of Equality Ballard, Ballard Spahr’s Business Resource Group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer lawyers and friends.