Civil rights attorneys sued the federal government for immediate access to hundreds of immigrants being held “incommunicado” at a medium security prison in the High Desert, according to court papers obtained in Los Angeles Wednesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the emergency lawsuit in federal court late Tuesday, to end what it says is the unconstitutional denial of attorney access to immigration detainees in custody at the federal prison complex in Victorville.
According to the ACLU, even attorneys who already had professional relationships with detainees before they were forcibly moved to the facility were cut off from clients. Volunteer lawyers who sought to hold “know your rights” sessions in the prison were likewise turned away, the group said.
In addition, detainees — who were transferred to Victorville from other parts of the country — appear to have been allowed little or no communication with family members.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson in Los Angeles could not immediately be reached for comment.
Plaintiffs include the non-profit Immigrant Defenders Law Center that provides free legal services to non-citizens in Southern California.
The ACLU is seeking a judge’s order that officials be forced to drop all actions preventing attorneys from visiting or communicating with immigration detainees at the prison.
“In countries around the world, holding prisoners incommunicado, with no access to legal help or even family, is the hallmark of despots and dictators,” said Michael Kaufman, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “These tactics have no place in a country committed to the rule of law and basic due process.”
The federal government recently announced that it intended to incarcerate at least 1,000 immigration detainees at the prison as part of its “zero-tolerance” policy under which it intends to prosecute all misdemeanor illegal entry violations and to forcibly separate immigrants subject to prosecution from their children and other family members, according to the lawsuit.
Early Wednesday, President Donald Trump reversed his policy separating immigrant children from parents who cross the border illegally, signing an executive order that he said would end the practice. That reversal followed intense criticism from Congress and the public over the separations.