'Inventing Anna' Sorokin sues over COVID boosters while in ICE custody

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Anna Sorokin, who a New York jury convicted of swindling more than $200,000 from banks and people, looks on during her sentencing at Manhattan State Supreme Court New York, U.S., May 9, 2019. Steven Hirsch/Pool via REUTERS

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  • Anna Sorokin says she contracted COVID-19 after booster request was ignored
  • Lawsuit seeks class action status for older, medically vulnerable detainees

(Reuters) - Anna Sorokin, a German woman convicted of posing as a wealthy heiress to scam banks, hotels and New York socialites, has sued federal immigration authorities for refusing to provide COVID-19 booster shots to her and other detainees facing deportation.

Sorokin, who is the subject of Netflix's new drama, "Inventing Anna," and three other detainees represented by the American Civil Liberties Union filed the complaint in Washington, D.C. federal court on Tuesday. They say U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is violating the constitutional rights of medically vulnerable detainees by ignoring their requests for booster shots.

ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Sorokin, 31, was convicted in 2019 of stealing $275,000 from others through an elaborate scheme in which, using the name Anna Delvey, she claimed to have access to a $67 million family fortune.

Sorkin was paroled from prison in February 2021 and soon after arrested by ICE, which detained her in a facility north of New York City. She is fighting the government's claims that she overstayed a visa and should be deported to Germany.

According to Tuesday's complaint, Sorokin tested positive for COVID-19 in January, a month after her written request for a booster shot was ignored, and suffered from a high fever, persistent cough and other symptoms. Sorokin has a chronic kidney infection and other medical issues, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are seeking to represent a nationwide class of detainees who are 55 or older or who have medical conditions that place them at higher risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

The ACLU filed a virtually identical lawsuit on behalf of a different group of detainees in January. Arthur Spitzer, a lawyer with the ACLU, said on Wednesday that the plaintiffs in that case all had recently received booster shots, making their claims moot, but that ICE has continued to routinely deny boosters to other detainees.

ICE has said that tens of thousands of its detainees have received COVID-19 vaccines, but Tuesday's lawsuit says the agency has not adopted any policy regarding booster doses.

Spitzer said Sorokin was referred to the ACLU by another nonprofit group after she expressed concerns about not receiving a booster.

"We were not looking to put fireworks around her name," Spitzer said, but "we thought to the extent that her involvement brings additional attention to the problem, it's a plus for everyone and not just for her."

Sorokin, in a statement provided by the ACLU, said she fears contracting COVID-19 a second time.

"I joined this lawsuit because everyone who wants a booster shot to protect themselves should be able to get one," she said.

The case is Escalante v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:22-cv-00541.

For the plaintiffs: Eunice Cho and Arthur Spitzer of the American Civil Liberties Union

For ICE: Not immediately available

(NOTE: This article has been updated to include a statement from Anna Sorokin.)

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.