The federal agency responsible for detaining illegal immigrants facing deportation, along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and a national prison management corporation, are being sued in federal court for allegedly undermining communication between detainees and their attorneys at detention centers, it was announced Monday.
“Legal representation is fundamental to ensuring due process for immigrants facing removal, but when our detained clients can’t effectively communicate with us, our abilities to be effective advocates are compromised,” said Meeth Soni, co-director at the Los Angeles-based Immigrant Defenders Law Center, a party of interest in the case.
The Stanford University-based Immigrants’ Rights Clinic joined the ACLU Foundation of Southern California in filing the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Riverside against U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as well as the Orange County sheriff and Boca Raton, Florida-based Geo Group Inc.
The proposed class-action complaint filed Friday alleges breaches of the First and Fourth amendments to the U.S. Constitution and violation of the Immigration & Nationality of 1965.
ICE, the principal defendant in the civil complaint, declined to respond to the plaintiffs’ claims, citing federal policy that prohibits comment on pending litigation.
The sheriff’s department issued a statement saying that under its contract with ICE, “We do not deny the ability for detainees to have access to their attorneys or telephones. We follow federal guidelines and the law, while maintaining the safety and security of our jails.”
According to the ACLU, illegal immigrant detainees and their attorneys have repeatedly encountered obstacles when trying to meet at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County, operated by Geo, which provides prison contract services throughout the country.
The plaintiffs also allege that sheriff’s deputies managing the Theo Lacy and James Musick correctional facilities in Orange County are engaging in similar activity, hobbling immigration attorneys in their efforts to communicate with clients.
“The U.S. government has placed arbitrary barriers between immigrant detainees and their lawyers, which must be eliminated if justice is to be served,” said Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Among specific individuals named as plaintiffs in the suit is asylum-seeker Desmond Tenghe, who is housed at the Adelanto facility. His attorneys allege that he has been denied free phone calls, and his $1 per day payment for doing odd jobs within the facility doesn’t provide him the means to pay for calls related to his case.
Another detainee, Jason Nsinano, has been in custody over three years — first in Adelanto, and now at the Lacy detention facility, according to the ACLU. His attorneys allege that he’s locked down 22 hours a day, and his limited use of the telephone prevents him from “calling human rights organizations, impeding his efforts to obtain critical information relating to his asylum case.”
The plaintiffs are requesting relief in the form of changing detention policy to permit detainees “to make private, un-monitored legal phone calls; establish reasonable accommodations for detainees who cannot afford to make calls; and provide sufficient spaces for confidential legal visits.”
No court hearings have been scheduled in the lawsuit yet.