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 lawsuit on October 13, 2022, to challenge the government’s failure to ensure compliance with constitutional requirements, federal law, and ICE’s own policies regarding access to counsel. We represent five non-profit 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), which provide free legal services to immigration detainees at 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.
The plaintiffs are represented by ACLU lawyers from the National Prison Project, the ACLUs of Arizona, Florida, Texas and D.C., and lawyers from Milbank LLP and Saul Ewing Ahrnstein & Lehr LLP.
UPDATES: On November 18, 2022, we filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, seeking urgent relief for the detainees our clients represent. On February 1, 2023, Judge Kollar-Kotelly granted that motion in part and denied it in part; in particular she ordered one facility to create spaces where detainees could have confidential meetings with their lawyers. On February 14 the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case; on February 17 they filed a motion to split the case into four cases and transfer one to each state where an ICE facility is located. We opposed those motions on March 8 and March 15, respectively. We also filed a motion for leave to file an amended complaint, on March 18. All of those motions remain under consideration.