A federal judge in Riverside was asked Thursday to sign an order forcing ICE to allow private meetings between attorneys and detainees at an immigration processing center in Adelanto.
Immigrants in detention centers have a long-established right to meet with attorneys, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at the center recently issued a new policy that essentially bans those visits, according to the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California.
An ICE representative said the agency cannot comment on pending litigation, but pointed to information posted on its website stating that detainee access to legal counsel will be accommodated “to the maximum extent practicable” in light of the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
ICE stated that non-contact legal visitation through Skype or teleconference should be offered first, if available, to limit exposure to detainees, “but if the attorney believes the legal visit requires contact, the facility should permit the visit with the appropriate guidelines it has established.”
The center’s policy, issued in the wake of the crisis, requires attorneys to wear personal protective equipment, including N-95 or surgical masks and eye protection if an in-person visit is required.
However, it’s almost impossible to get access to all the required high-end gear — and even doctors are having trouble acquiring it, the ACLU noted. Further, ICE officials have taken no steps to allow effective alternatives to in-person visitation, such as accessible phones or video-confrencing, the civil rights organization alleges.
If approved by U.S. District Judge Jesus G. Bernal, the temporary restraining order would force ICE to allow for private communication between attorneys and detainees at the Adelanto center, whether by phone or other means.
Plaintiffs argue that restrictions on attorney-client consultations violate the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The ACLU filing asks that Adelanto officials revise their telephone system policies to make legal calls accessible, private, and free of charge. It also asks that officials implement a process by which attorneys can exchange confidential documents electronically.
Telephone access, which is often detainees’ only means of communication with the outside world, is severely restricted in Adelanto, with only a handful of phones available to a detention capacity of nearly 2,000 people, according to the ACLU.
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