WASHINGTON — Several legal services organizations filed a lawsuit today 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.
"Everyone knows that when the government locks you up, you have a right to see a lawyer," said Arthur B. Spitzer, Senior Counsel at the ACLU of the District of Columbia. "But these ICE detention facilities make that nearly impossible for people in their custody. Our lawsuit seeks to make access to counsel a reality for these immigrants."
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.
"Having access to counsel is vital,” said Alex Miller, director of the Immigration Justice Campaign for the American Immigration Council. “At some detention centers, IJC has been forced to stop taking clients altogether because we have no reliable way to place or receive calls. For the Immigration Justice Campaign, remote representation is essential to our model. The government needs to do better. Through this lawsuit, we demand that ICE removes all communication barriers and provides free, confidential meetings for attorneys and their clients by any means available both in person and remotely.”
The complaint 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).
The complaint is online here.