As of September 2022, more than 25,000 immigrants are held in nearly 185 ICE detention centers nationwide. For such detained immigrants, access to counsel can mean the difference between freedom and the ability to remain in the United States on the one hand and prolonged detention and deportation on the other. Detained immigrants with legal representation are almost seven times more likely to be released from custody while their cases are being adjudicated. Detained immigrants who are represented by counsel are more than 10 times more likely to win their immigration cases than those who are not represented.

Although immigrants have a right to legal representation in immigration proceedings, they do not have a right to government-appointed counsel. They are entirely responsible for finding their own attorneys (paid or pro bono)—an extremely difficult proposition for any detained person, but one that is made exponentially harder by the systemic barriers to communication in ICE detention centers.

ICE limits detained immigrants’ access to counsel in many ways: by barring access to legal telephone calls, including by withholding from detained immigrants the option to schedule telephone calls in advance; by exacting prohibitive costs for telephone calls; by denying or arbitrarily delaying in-person legal visits; by failing to provide confidential settings for legal telephone calls and in-person visits; and by making video conferences or email unavailable as methods of communication with counsel, even at detention centers that are in remote locations far from lawyers’ offices.

We filed this Freedom of Information Act case on September 28, 2020, seeking ICE detention center policies and directives regarding access to counsel for individuals held in ICE detention centers, as well as internal documents about deficiencies in compliance with those policies, so as to better inform the Biden administration, Congress, and the public about these serious problems.

On October 12, 2022, we voluntarily dismissed this case, in light of the fact that on October 13 we filed another lawsuit directly challenging ICE's failure to provide adequate access to counsel, and we will be better able to obtain relevant information through discovery in that case.

The case page for that case is here.

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Milbank LLP

Date filed

September 28, 2022


U.S. District Court