ICE faces lawsuit for unlawfully blocking attorneys from detained clients

ICE faces lawsuit for unlawfully blocking attorneys from detained clients

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) consistently makes hell for detained immigrants and their lawyers. Federal immigration officials know as well as we do that when immigrants have access to legal help, they’re more likely to be able to stay in the U.S.

Their blockading is a pervasive problem. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a report this past summer noted issues across dozens of sites, including facilities simply refusing to pick up the phone. The organization is among of coalition of groups now suing on behalf of immigrants blocked from their attorneys at four detention sites.

RELATED STORY: Report sheds light on ICE ‘systematically’ restricting detained immigrants from legal help

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The organizations say in the lawsuit that officials “have unlawfully prevented reliable, confidential
attorney-client communication that is necessary for effective legal representation” at sites in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona. This includes denying detained immigrants and their attorneys meeting spaces, restricting attorneys “from scheduling calls with or leaving confidential
messages for detained clients,” and blocking interpreters, notaries, and others crucial to their cases.

Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say in a release that restrictions at the Florence Correctional Center in Arizona, the Krome Service Processing Center in Florida, the Laredo Processing Center in Texas, and the River Correctional Center in Louisiana make accessing legal help “extremely difficult and, sometimes, impossible.” They note the restrictions violate ICE’s own policies.

“For immigrants fleeing violence, access to counsel can be a matter of life or death. Being unable to obtain an attorney, or even communicate with their attorney due to onerous policies, infringes on migrants’ constitutional right to due process,” said Vanessa Pineda, ACLU of Arizona Immigrants’ Rights Attorney. “The ICE detention system has a history of demonstrated cruelty towards the people in its centers—it’s time they begin to treat immigrants with respect and remove barriers to access to counsel.” Click here to see the full list of organizations suing on behalf of immigrant rights groups and detained immigrants.

The ACLU’s report this past summer said officials “have systematically restricted basic modes of communication between attorneys and detained immigrants,” including blocking attorneys from making scheduled calls at nearly 60 facilities. ”At 20 percent of the detention facilities called by researchers, no one ever picked up the phone or operators refused to answer basic questions about attorney access,” the report said. Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, among the groups represented by organizations like the ACLU, said officials had cut client-attorney calls so short they couldn’t complete intakes. It’s not like immigration law is incredibly complicated or anything.

Yet ICE dared to claim in March that it has offered detained people “’unabated’ access to lawyers during the pandemic.” It told this outrageous lie in a report to Congress, Roll Call reported.

“Research shows detained people with representation are almost seven times more likely to be released from custody and 10 times more likely to win their immigration cases than those without,” organizations said in the release announcing the lawsuit. You’d want to be released as soon as possible from a facility like Krome Service Processing Center, which has a history of racist abuse and endangered detainees overall by flouting pandemic safety measures.

“Immigration detention is intensely isolating and retraumatizing, and for many people, securing release from detention or winning their case is life-saving,” said Laura St. John, Legal Director at the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project. “Having access to legal counsel in these situations can be the difference between whether you fight your case from an isolated prison or from a supportive community, whether you face abusive conditions while you fight your case or not, and whether you win or lose your case.”

RELATED STORIES:

Immigrants go through hell trying to access legal help while in ICE detention—and it’s on purpose

Advocates say ICE continues to deny Haitians detained at New Mexico facility access to legal help

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