Detained Immigrants Ask Court to Stop ICE Interference to Phone Access in Immigration Detention Centers

Detained Immigrants Ask Court to Stop ICE Interference to Phone Access in Immigration Detention Centers

August 26, 2020

WASHINGTON—Today, individuals in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Otero County Processing Center filed a motion for preliminary injunction to stop ICE from denying detained individuals the ability to contact their lawyers and the outside world by phone.

ICE’s policies that deny or restrict access to telephone calls interfere with detainees’ ability to obtain or consult an attorney, gather evidence and information to present their immigration case, and prepare for deportation proceedings.

Represented by the American Immigration Council and the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, plaintiffs are asking the court to order ICE to lift restrictive telephone access policies and grant detained individuals meaningful telephone access. Plaintiffs seek an order requiring basic due process protections in scheduling legal calls, including legal intake calls, providing a private space for confidential legal calls, providing calls that last more than a few minutes, and providing reliable and phone call quality.

“Detained migrants face obstacles to telephone use at every turn. Free calls are nearly impossible to schedule, poor sound quality often makes those calls worthless, and a lack of privacy makes confidentiality impossible. This would be alarming at any time, but it is all the more so during the COVID-19 pandemic, when attorneys and others cannot visit the Otero facility safely,”  said Kate Melloy Goettel, legal director of litigation at the American Immigration Council. “ICE’s complete failure to provide telephone access has resulted in compromised legal representation at best and prolonged detention and deportation at worst.”

These critical issues were brought to light by the Immigration Justice Campaign, a joint initiative of the American Immigration Council and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and its partnerships through the El Paso Immigration Collaborative: EPIC. Advocates on the ground in detention centers have also reported that these phone access issues have made it extremely difficult to represent detained individuals because in-person visits are impossible due to COVID-19.

“At a time when ICE publicly recognizes the need for extended access to telephones due to curtailed in-person visitation, there can be no rational explanation for the deteriorated telephone access conditions at the Otero facility. Five- to 10- minute, costly, non-confidential calls on a recorded line and within earshot of other detained individuals and detention staff impedes the development of a legal defense and obstructs the attorney-client relationship,” said Paige Pavone, managing associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

A copy of the motion for preliminary injunction is here.

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For more information, contact the American Immigration Council:

Maria Frausto at [email protected] or 202-507-7526; or Tessa Wiseman at [email protected] or 202-507-7661.

Media Contact

Maria Frausto, Senior Communications Manager 

[email protected]

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