Detained Immigrants Are Suing ICE For Access To Legal Representation To Fight Deportation

Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Friday in Riverside, California, three immigrants sued U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, alleging that they don't have adequate access to legal representation while trying to fight deportation. The case — Torres v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security — contends that these men in ICE custody in southern California are limited in their time to make phone calls and that phone calls are "prohibitively expensive," according to the lawsuit, in turn making contacting lawyers extremely challenging.

The plaintiffs' names are Ernesto Torres, Desmond Tenghe, and Jason Nsinano, but it is a class-action lawsuit, so more plaintiffs may be added later. ICE did not respond to Bloomberg's request for comment, and Bustle has reached out to ICE for comment on the lawsuit. You can read the entire lawsuit filing here. The lawsuit named named U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, ICE, acting ICE director Ronald Vitiello, Los Angeles field office director David Marin, the Orange County Sheriff's Department, and Florida private prison company Geo Group, Inc. as defendants.

Filed by the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Southern California and the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School, the lawsuit alleges that these practices violate the First and Fifth Amendments as well as the Immigration and Nationality Act. Facilities were these violations occur are, according to the suit, the Theo Lacy and James A. Musick facilities in Orange County, which are operated by the Orange County Sheriff's Department, and the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County operated by Geo Group, Inc.

John Moore/Getty Images News/Getty Images

As Pacific Standard reported last year, many immigrants are facing civil proceedings with regards to deportation, which means they're not necessarily entitled to legal counsel like they would be as a criminal defendant. This means immigrants must find their own representation, which makes access to phone calls critical. In fact, in 2014, a study from Stanford Law School's Immigrants' Rights Clinic and the Northern California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice immigrants with legal representation are "three times more likely to win their deportation cases than those without attorneys."

"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," Meeth Soni, co-legal director at the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, said in a press release about the suit.

The filing also mentioned the new quota system for immigration judges put in place by the Trump administration. In an effort to clear a backlog of immigration cases (only exacerbated by the zero-tolerance policy implemented this summer), the Department of Justice announced a quota system for immigration judges in April. The policy, which was reported to begin in October, required judges to clear 700 or more cases a year, according to The Washington Post. An average immigration judge clear 678 cases each year, Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley told the Post when the policy was announced.

Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Friday's lawsuit called the institution of quotas "particularly harmful to detained noncitizens." But the immigration judges' union wasn't a fan of the new policy, either. "This is an unprecedented act which compromises the integrity of the court," Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said in a speech in September, according to Reuters.

The lawsuit also alleges that "legal mail" — like from their attorneys — is "prohibitively slow, unreliable, and in certain circumstances, subject to government intrusion or interference." Meeting in person with an attorney is also fraught, according to the lawsuit, because immigrants are not given "adequate number of confidential attorney-client visiting rooms" with attorney waiting "for hours just for the potential opportunity" to meet with clients.