WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today for records from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) related to detained immigrants’ ability to access counsel. The immigration detention system has consistently made it difficult for people held in detention to find and retain an attorney. In 2020 more than 70 percent of detained individuals did not have legal representation.
“The importance of legal representation for people in immigration proceedings cannot be overstated. 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. Access to counsel is an absolutely vital right,” said Patrick Taurel, senior staff attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project. “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.”
ICE has a significant number of immigration detention facilities in geographically isolated locations far from immigration attorneys. Detention facilities have also limited basic modes of communication such as confidential visitation, telephone access, video conferencing, and access to the internet and email, making it extraordinarily difficult for people in detention to locate, retain, and communicate with an attorney.
The Biden administration has made access to legal representation and access to justice a priority. Despite this commitment, congressional inquiries, and multiple lawsuits, ICE has failed to resolve these persistent problems.
The requested records will show what policies and practices ICE has put in place — and failed to put in place — to safeguard immigrants’ rights to access counsel. In addition, they will reveal which immigration detention facilities are failing to adhere to standards governing access to counsel and what ICE is doing — and not doing — about it.
The FOIA request is available online here: https://www.aclu.org/letter/aclu-foia-request-seeking-records-access-counsel-immigration-detention