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ACLU suit says authorities make it hard for migrant detainees to call attorneys

One immigrant has been detained for over three years, first at a facility in Adelanto and now at another in Orange County, with little access to a phone to call an attorney and human rights activists.

Another earns $1 a day, not enough to pay for such calls. A third can’t connect with an attorney because each time he calls one he gets a recorded greeting, and the detention center’s phone system requires that a live person answer and accept the call or it disconnects.

Migrant detainees facing deportation – many of whom are accused of no crime other than being in the country illegally – regularly encounter such barriers, which deprive them of their rights and could make a difference of whether they stay or go, according to civil-rights advocates who filed a lawsuit on Friday.

What’s more, the lawsuit claims that when detainees finally get attorneys on the phone, those calls can be monitored or even recorded.



Saying immigrant detention centers deny detainees the ability to contact and consult with attorneys, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status, naming three defendants. They are the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which runs the Theo Lacy and James A. Musick facilities, and the GEO Group, Inc., which runs for-profit detention migrant detention facilities, including a facility in Adelanto that’s the largest detention center in California.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside, the lawsuit was brought on behalf of individual detainees and non-profit legal organizations that provide services to detainees: the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigrant Defenders Law Center.

“The U.S. government has placed arbitrary barriers between immigrant detainees and their lawyers which must be eliminated if justice is to be served,” Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said in a statement.

Restrictions on telephone access and communication at Theo Lacy, Musick and Adelanto are “unnecessarily restrictive and punitive,” according to the lawsuit. Restrictions are very similar to those imposed on non-migrant detainees and convicted prisoners, even though the noncitizens “are not being held for punitive reasons,” the lawsuit continues.

Conversations, whether in meeting rooms or over the phone, can be overheard, monitored and recorded. Such recordings are illegal, according to Michael Kauman, ACLU senior staff attorney.

“It raises serious due process and First Amendment issues,” Kaufman said Monday.

But detainees may not be given any choice, he said. In recent weeks, an extra measure has been added to calls being placed from Theo Lacy and Musick: anyone speaking with a detainee is asked to acknowledge that the phone call may be recorded, Kaufman said.

“The way they have set up in these facilities, there’s no way to make a private legal call. (Detainees) are  put in the impossible situation of deciding whether to call their attorneys, knowing that their calls may be monitored by government officials,” Kaufman said.

It’s unclear whether migrant detainees’ calls to their lawyers are among the phone recordings from Theo Lacy and Musick that have been improperly obtained by Orange County prosecutors. Nearly 34,000 inmate phone calls to their attorneys were recorded, according to court documents.

Despite the controversy, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted last month to renew for another year its contract with Global Tel Link, which handles jail communication.

In a brief statement Monday, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department denied violating detainee rights, noting it houses detainees “under contract with federal authorities.”

“We do not deny the ability for detainees to have access to their attorneys or telephones. We follow federal guidelines and the law, while maintaining the safety and security of our jails,” department officials said.

ICE officials did not reply to a request for comment.  And a spokesperson for the GEO Group sent an e-mail saying that the company does not set phone policies or immigration law.

In its lawsuit, the ACLU and the Stanford Law School clinic ask the court to order the defendants to provide noncitizens with the ability to make private, unrecorded legal telephone calls; provide sufficient space, staff and time to make the calls; and provide “reasonable accommodations” for those who are indigent and can’t afford to make legal calls, including international calls.

The lawsuit claims officials are violating the Immigration and Nationality Act, which includes language pertaining to the rights of noncitizens facing deportation, as well the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.


Source: Orange County Register

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