Forget About Calling A Lawyer Or Anyone at All if You’re in an Immigration Detention Facility

This piece originally appeared at The Huffington Post

When he was 10 years old, Audley Lyon moved from Jamaica to the United States. He grew up here, fell in love, married a U.S. citizen, and served honorably in the U.S. Air Force. Then Immigration and Customs Enforcement locked him up. It should have been simple for Mr. Lyon to obtain the certifications he needed to begin to fight the deportation charges and return home to his family. He just needed a few government documents, all within reach with a little phone tag and a little patience.

But ICE placed such heavy restrictions on telephone use that Mr. Lyon found it virtually impossible to place a call — any call — that connected to the outside world. He was held in a California jail where ICE rented beds. Guards kept Mr. Lyon and other detainees in their cells 19 hours a day, severely limiting their ability to make calls during business hours. The phone system automatically disconnected whenever he tried to leave a voicemail or navigate an automated phone system and did not permit anyone to return calls or leave a message for him. Even when he was able to reach someone, the jail’s collect-call-only system required recipients to accept prohibitively expensive phone rates and fees that added up to $5.50 for a 10-minute call, automatically dropped calls after 15 minutes, and provided no private space for making a confidential call.

In the end, Mr. Lyon caught a lucky break because he managed to secure an in-person meeting with an immigration attorney from a nonprofit organization, and she agreed to represent him. He is now out of detention. But many others continue to face a grim choice between giving up and signing deportation papers, or asking the court to keep them in detention longer so they can keep trying to play a rigged, high-priced, high-stakes game of telephone tag.

The barriers to telephone access that Mr. Lyon faced are not unique. Across the country, ICE holds hundreds of thousands of immigrants each year in a mish-mash of approximately 250 county jails, private prisons, and federally-run facilities — often in remote locations, far from immigration attorneys. Like Mr. Lyon, every person isolated in detention must find an attorney (there is no public defender system for immigration court) and gather evidence to pursue legal relief from deportation. That’s a tall order when you can’t even leave voice mail for anyone.

ICE’s internal standards for its facilities’ operations prohibit many of the telephone limitations that Mr. Lyon faced, but ICE rarely enforces them. In fact, those assigned to oversee ICE’s Northern California facilities didn’t even know what the phone standards required, probably because ICE’s system-wide inspection checklists for monitoring compliance omitted key parts of the standards, like the requirement that facilities have a system for routinely taking and delivering phone messages to detainees. As the Government Accountability Office and organizations like the ACLU have documented, ICE has a pattern of letting its standards go unenforced, not only with phones but with medical care and suicide prevention.

This week, Mr. Lyon and ICE reached a settlement in a class action lawsuit filed on his behalf by the ACLU of Northern California, the ACLU National Prison Project, and the law firms Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe and Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale. Under the agreement, ICE will finally provide immigrants in Northern California detention facilities the basic telephone functionality we take for granted outside the fence. Detained immigrants like Mr. Lyon will be able to make calls during business hours, leave voicemail messages, and receive messages in return; make case-related calls to both attorneys and non-attorneys using free, private telephone rooms; and have access to international calling and other features necessary for their cases. Additionally, ICE will change its auditing forms so that the detention facilities across the country will be inspected for compliance with key telephone access standards.

If you’re locked in a jail cell under threat of being sent out of the country, a telephone may be your only hope of clearing your name and returning to your job and your family. Thanks to Mr. Lyon’s lawsuit, detained immigrants will finally be able to work on securing the documents and support they need, rather than grasping at a lifeline that is always just beyond their reach.

View comments (10)
Read the Terms of Use


Thanks ACLU , this is truly awful what happened to Mr. Lyon but now hopefully things will get better .

Ex-Muslim Atheist

I come to the U.S. As political refugee at young ago and DHS detain me over traffic tickets want to send me to death at hands of Muslim terrorist.

Words cannot express how thankful I was of your help, nor can I ever repay Pro bono with money but with great gratitude. 
I remembered a pro bono immigration attorney called me and told me they would help me with my case for free. I will never forget how that ray of hope has given me the strength to continue life. This inspire me daily with all the stuff that you do!

There is nothing more rewarding than receiving the help of someone who knew nothing about me and still gave it their all to help .  I'm speechless to the outcome of the situation and cannot capture the whole image of this happening for it is so amazingly bright to my conscious eyes that it will take a whole lifetime to give thanks.


Thank you for saving lives!


Ex-muslim atheist having traffic tickets is not a deportable offense. I feel confident in saying that you found yourself in immigration detention because your immigration status had lapsed or because of some other immigration violation. The traffic ticket is what brought to the attention of immigration officials.


Oh how lovely for you. And i really mean that. AMERICA is the best place in the world to live and i appreciate the thanks that you feel you owe them that might take a lifetime to repay. Well, that doesn't have to take a lifetime. Is it safe to assume that you have dome what was necessary to become a US Citizen?? Did you? Maybe you could take a stand for America and let the world know how we treat immigrants and those who have no intentions of causing g us any harm should be perfectly willing to do what is necessary to get to this wonderful country and they shouldn't fight about it. And if they can't respect that, they should stay home.

Welcome to America!

Devin.bc Im not...

Yes immigrants can and have been deported, illegally, over traffic tickets. A moving violation is not a parking ticket and can land you in jail. Shut your mouth and research before making inane comments that prove how stupid some of us Americans are. People like you that I am disgusted to say I share citizenship with. Thank the gods for the ACLU since Americans love to pretend they know the law well enough to argue against their own rights. I am shamed at the stupidity of white rural males that voted the most unqualified man in history to assume the highest office in the country. On behalf of the REAL majority who voted against that megalomaniac, I am sorry.


Please don't be sorry for me. You prefer to sit with the fools in corruption, don't forget your rope...


When i read comments like these it brings a smile to my face...

...How joyful a time in which we live, Trump was the biggest EFFF U to liberal cool-aid pushers like you.


Did Mr. Lyon enter this country legally? And how, if he did, can our government then allow him to serve in the US Air Force. I am for anyone getting citizenship in this country and do not understand how people who have not applied, or why, they can then get offered all the services this country has to offer. I have looked for these answers but have not found them. So I have contacted the ACLU.


I call BS on this. If he served any amount of "Honorable" time, he could have fast tracked his citizenship at anytime in his 4, 6, 8, 10, 20 years in the Air Force. I've known US Marines that joined from Bosnia in 94-95 time frame that became Naturalized within 6 months of graduating Boot camp. Prove to me he received a honorable discharge and did not commit a crime.
Anyone from any place may volunteer to join the Military, they are required by Military Law to become Naturalized before they Discharge. That tells be they got kicked out before their time was up for unfavorable actions. Then commited a crime and got arrested.


My brother is in USA from last 27 years. He is 46 years old. That means he was only 19 years old when he was in USA.
He has no criminal record at all, not even a minor offence.
A tax payer from 27 years.
Married to my wife's cousin who is an American citizen.
One interview with immigration went ok but 2nd letter by immigration he never received & later (after a long time) came to know that he has a deportation orders issued. He was divorced before getting his deportation order.
He is living in USA from last 27 years as a law obedient person.
I am extremely worried about his safety & wellbeing. The current crackdown by ICE in various states of USA is making me worried.
He loves USA & will die in USA.

Stay Informed