WASHINGTON, DC — Several legal services organizations filed a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for unlawfully preventing attorneys from communicating with immigrants detained in four detention facilities in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona. Plaintiff organizations, represented in the lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); the American Immigration Council; the ACLU of Arizona, D.C., Florida, and Texas; Milbank LLP; and Saul Ewing Ahrnstein & Lehr LLP, challenge the government’s failure to ensure compliance with constitutional requirements, federal law, and ICE’s own policies regarding access to counsel.
“Immigration detention is cruel, punitive, and unnecessary,” said Emma Winger, senior attorney at the American Immigration Council. “The government locks people up—often in remote facilities far from family and legal services providers—while erecting arbitrary barriers to accessing counsel. Immigrants in detention should not have to struggle to have private conversations with their lawyers. The stakes are too high.”
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. Yet, in at least four immigration detention facilities at which the legal organizations provide services — the Florence Correctional Center in Florence, Arizona; the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, Florida; the Laredo Processing Center in Laredo, Texas; and the River Correctional Center in Ferriday, Louisiana – attorneys have encountered numerous obstacles to communicating with detained people, making representation extremely difficult and, sometimes, impossible. Barriers to communication include: difficulty scheduling legal calls and in-person meetings, barriers to confidential settings crucial for protecting attorney-client privilege, and unlawful restrictions on making and receiving calls.
“Access to counsel can be a matter of life or death for immigrants detained by ICE,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “When people can’t communicate with their attorneys, it increases the chance they will lose their case – an outcome that ultimately affects whether or not they will be permanently separated from their loved ones or sent back to dangerous conditions from which they fled. It’s past time ICE followed the law and their own policies.”
The lawsuit is brought on behalf of non-profit legal service organizations Americans for Immigrant Justice (AIJ), Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (FIRRP), the Immigration Justice Campaign for the American Immigration Council (IJC), Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy (ISLA), and Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).