Media Contact

Ari Schechter,

April 4, 2020

CONCORD, N.H. —  The ACLU of New Hampshire filed an emergency federal lawsuit yesterday afternoon with Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic/Greater Boston Legal Services on behalf of a Guatemalan immigrant currently detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Strafford County Department of Corrections. In light of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the ACLU of NH also filed a court document asking for immediate consideration by the court.

Pedro Gonzalez Guarcas, originally from Guatemala, came to the United States seeking asylum after the Guatemalan Civil War, in which his indigenous community was subject to violence, discrimination, and genocide by the government.

“There is a heightened risk of serious harm to people in immigration detention from COVID-19, so we ask the court to hear this case as soon as possible and to release Mr. Gonzalez Guarcas back to his family during this extraordinarily difficult time,” said SangYeob Kim, immigration staff attorney at the ACLU of New Hampshire. “In addition to this case, we have also asked ICE to release detainees from Strafford County Department of Corrections, as public health experts have warned that failure to do so endangers the lives of everyone in the facility, including staff, and the broader community.”

During the war, Gonzalez Guarcas’ family were leaders in protecting their Mayan community. Though his sister and brother were both granted asylum for the persecution they endured and would continue to endure if back in Guatemala, Gonzalez Guarcas was detained by ICE on February 28, 2020, and has remained in custody in Dover, New Hampshire. Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic/Greater Boston Legal Services is representing Gonzalez Guarcas for his asylum proceedings.

The letter to ICE from Community Voices for Immigrant Rights, University of Maine’s Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, and ACLU of New Hampshire can be found online here:

Civil Rights in a Pandemic

Viruses like COVID-19 do not distinguish between economic, immigration, or incarceration status—and so all people must be protected. The ACLU of New Hampshire is urging jails and prisons in the Granite State to release people where possible, and is asking ICE to halt immigration enforcement operations and release detainees currently at Strafford County Department of Corrections.

Directly after New Hampshire was placed under a state of emergency on March 13, 2020, the ACLU of New Hampshire released recommendations that government officials and other decision makers must consider to achieve a fair and effective response to COVID-19.