McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — A group of legal organizations has asked a federal court to intervene quickly in their lawsuit alleging that the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement denies detained migrants access to legal aid.
An amended complaint and a preliminary injunction were filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., by several organizations on behalf of migrants who are being held at four ICE facilities in Texas, Arizona, Louisiana and Florida.
“In filing the preliminary injunction motion we are basically requesting that because the current conditions that our clients face are causing such harm to people in detention and to their attorneys that the court needs to act quickly to make sure these conditions are resolved,” Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberty Union’s (ACLU), told Border Report on Tuesday.
In October, the legal groups filed the original civil lawsuit in the D.C. court against DHS, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, ICE, and Acting ICE Director Tae Johnson. The groups suing include the ACLU; American Immigration Council; Americans for Immigrant Justice; Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project; Immigration Justice Campaign; Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy; and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).
The lawsuit alleges that the Laredo Processing Center in Laredo, Texas; the Florence Correctional Center in Phoenix; the River Correctional Center in New Orleans; and the Krome Detention Center, near Miami, have insufficient private attorney visitation rooms, difficult scheduling requirements for legal calls, and severe restrictions on arranging interpretation services.
This includes requiring lawyers to request interpreters six months in advance for meetings with clients in Laredo. According to the lawsuit, this has resulted in other detainees stepping in to interpret for Haitian migrants who speak Creole.
The lawsuit also says the lawyers are forbidden from bringing computers or printers to the Laredo facility, which delays the preparation of legal documents in their immigration cases, Cho said.
“Depriving detained immigrants and their counsel of their rights to confidentially and reliably communicate with each other places detained immigrants’ freedom and futures at risk,” according to the 87-page lawsuit.
In response to questions about the lawsuit, an ICE spokesperson told Border Report: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will not comment on ongoing or pending litigation.”
ICE officials did say that detained migrants are provided information on free legal services and resources that are available to them and that 17 detention facilities nationwide have virtual attorney visitation services available. However, those facilities are not included in the four facilities listed in the civil lawsuit.
“Defendants prevent attorneys from being able to reliably and confidentially communicate with detained clients, both in person and via remote means (e.g., by telephone and videoconference), and in some instances prevent them from being able to communicate with detained clients at all,” the lawsuit says.
Due to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the court has told the government they have until Dec. 9 to respond to the motion. Cho says the ACLU then has until Dec. 21 to file a reply.