By Amy Berberyan
WASHINGTON D.C. – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to detained immigrants’ ability to access counsel Friday.
These records were requested from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because the immigration detention system “consistently [making] it difficult for people held in detention to find and retain an attorney” according to the ACLU news release.
Patrick Taurel, senior staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project, said that “the importance of legal representation for people in immigration proceedings cannot be overstated.”
In 2020, upwards of 70 percent of detained individuals lacked legal representation, the ACLU charged.
“The statistics show that having a lawyer can make all the difference between freedom and months or years in a cage; between deportation to danger and a life of safety in the United States,” said Taurel, adding, “Access to counsel is an absolutely vital right.”
Taurel’s email also noted “a person who is represented by attorney is far more likely to succeed in immigration court,” arguing, “all people, including detained immigrants, have constitutional rights to due process and access to counsel. The public has a right to understand the full extent of ICE’s failure to uphold these fundamental rights.”
According to the ACLU news release, “ICE has a significant number of immigration detention facilities in geographically isolated locations far from immigration attorneys.”
In addition to this obstruction, the ACLU asserts detention facilities make it extraordinarily difficult for people in detention to locate, retain, and communicate with attorneys due to limited basic modes of communication: this affects confidential visitation, telephone access, video conferencing, and access to the internet and email.
Despite “the Biden administration [making] access to legal representation and access to justice a priority,” congressional inquiries, complaints to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and multiple lawsuits, the ACLU news release stresses that ICE has failed to solve these persistent communication problems with its detention facilities.
The FOIA request concerns records that include information about the policies and practices ICE has successfully implemented–and also failed to implement–regarding the safeguarding of immigrants’ rights to access counsel.
The ACLU said the records are expected to show which detention facilities do not meet standards concerning these rights, and whether or not ICE is doing anything to correct that.