Legal rights of migrants in ICE detention limited by technological issues


WE Immigration and Customs Control restricts access to lawyers for immigrants in its detention centers, leaving them more vulnerable to longer detention and even deportation, according to an exclusive report American Civil Liberties Union report obtained by USA TODAY.

Immigrants Detained in civil cases face “monumental obstacles in finding and communicating with lawyers”, rendering their right to legal representation “essentially meaningless”, according to the report released Thursday.

The ACLU study, “No Fighting Chance: ICE’s Denial of Access to Counsel in US Immigration Detention Centers”, found barriers to effective legal representation. They include: insufficient access to telephone lines and videoconferencing; lack of email and other electronic messages; barriers to in-person lawyer visits; and delayed mail.

The cost of impeding contact between lawyers and immigrants, who have the right to be represented in civil immigration proceedings, is high, said Aditi Shah, who authored the report with her ACLU colleague , Eunice Cho.

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“Barriers to accessing a lawyer increase the likelihood of prolonged detention and deportation, which not only violates the rights of detained immigrants, but increases the risk that they will face serious and preventable harm. , even to death during their detention or after their deportation,” Shah said.

People have the right to be represented by a lawyer in civil immigration proceedings, but they must pay or find a lawyer who will perform the service for free since he is not paid by the government. Nearly four in five detained immigrants do not have a lawyer, the report says.

Legal representation makes a huge difference since immigrants who have lawyers are 10 times more likely to win their civil lawsuits, according to a study cited in the report.

Belor Mbema Mapudi Ngoma, who is at the Krome North Service Processing Center in Florida and has been in civil immigration detention since July 2020, is trying to reopen a case in which he was deported in October, but said he is struggling to reach legal organizations willing to provide free services.

Mapudi Ngoma relies on a list of phone numbers for legal services posted at the detention center, but said some numbers don’t work and he can’t leave messages for some organizations because they require button access. -push to voicemail or other services he said weren’t available through the detention center’s phone.

Like many detainees, the native of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who is representing himself in his immigration file, cannot afford a lawyer and try to call every day to find one that offers pro bono services from the options listed in the center.

“I think ICE should do a better job of giving us access to a lawyer,” Mapudi Ngoma said in a recorded and monitored call on Wednesday. He said he felt “anxious, stressed, depressed” and that his two US-born children, whose mother died in 2017.

The ACLU report, which the civil liberties organization says is the first comprehensive review of lawful access for immigrants in detention, was researched in late 2021 and examines lawful access in 173 of the 192 ICE locations nationwide. It also includes responses to a survey of 89 immigration attorneys and legal representatives about their experiences representing clients in 58 detention centers.

Detained immigrants are moved in secure groups to an on-campus housing unit at the Krome Detention Center in Florida.

ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the agency, did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment this week.

The lack of privacy and confidentiality for attorney-client phone conversations is a problem, said Naveen Flores-Dixit, a lawyer with American gateways, a non-profit organization that provides legal services to the low-income immigrant community in Texas. He cited the case of a client whose immigration file included the allegation that he would be endangered by MS-13, an international gang, in his home country.

“I had a client who said to me, ‘I was going to call you at a (scheduled) time, but I thought an MS-13 member was using the (next) phone, so I didn’t feel not comfortable talking to you about my case,” Flores-Dixit said, recalling the client’s predicament.

Similarly, LGBTQ clients who feel unsafe in their home country because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are reluctant to discuss details that might be relevant to a legal matter without confidentiality.

“If they do it on the phone with all their dorm mates, it can make them very uncomfortable, especially if there are sensitive issues,” Flores-Dixit said.

A more technical issue is that “a lot of times the phones are very poor quality. You don’t hear the customer,” he said.

If miscommunication requires an in-person visit, it can take half a day of work and time to represent other clients in need, he said.

Immigrant families and their supporters attend a rally at Mariachi Plaza in Los Angeles, California on April 8, 2021, demanding that President Joe Biden move forward with his plan to grant legal status to more than 10 millions of undocumented immigrants, as well as to demand the release of children detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Delayed mail and lack of access to electronic communications for signing documents can lead to difficulties in meeting court deadlines, said Lisa Chun, senior counsel for the National Immigrant Justice Centerthe detention team.

Chun said she and her colleagues have been lucky in their dealings with immigration judges who understand such challenges, but “it’s up to the judge’s discretion. The judge could easily say, ‘Too bad.’ A deadline is a deadline. “”

Even if the judge grants an extension, the delay means a person’s time in custody increases, she said. “It is a problem.”

The main recommendation of the report, supported by the lawyers interviewed, calls for immigrants awaiting a decision on asylum applications, deportation efforts and other civil proceedings to be placed under the supervision of social services programs. communities and not in detention centres, which facilitates their access to effective legal representation.

A Analysis by the American Immigration Council government data from 2008 to 2018 found that 83% of non-detained immigrants — and 96% of those who had lawyers — attended all of their hearings.

The ACLU also demanded that DHS and Congress ensure that access to counsel is available at all ICE detention centers; provide confidential and unmonitored telephone and videoconferencing lines; allow legal calls with lawyers at prearranged times; and guarantee fast, confidential and free access to legal documents and paperwork.

Shah said ICE has demonstrated a lack of transparency and oversight on the issue of lawful access and that high-profile violations against effective counsel show the seriousness of the problem. Protocols can vary between detention centers and some have practices that go against ICE’s own standards, she said.

“It’s not so much about assessing what each individual hurdle looks like, whether it’s phone calls, in-person visits, or legal mail, but rather the fact that, in many institutions, this is not just one of those methods that are severely broken, but rather numerous,” she said.


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