U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is restricting access to lawyers for immigrants at its detention centers, leaving them more vulnerable to longer detainment and even deportation, says the American Civil Liberties Union, reports USA TODAY. Immigrants detained in civil cases face "monumental barriers in finding and communicating with attorneys," which renders their right to legal representation "essentially meaningless," charges an ACLU report. "No Fighting Chance: ICE's Denial of Access to Counsel in U.S. Immigration Detention Centers," found hurdles to effective legal representation. They include: inadequate access to phone and video conference lines; lack of email and other electronic messaging; barriers to in-person attorney visits; and delayed mail. The cost of impeding contact between lawyers and immigrants, who have the right to representation in civil immigration proceedings, is steep, said Aditi Shah, who wrote the report with Eunice Cho. People have the right to legal representation in civil immigration proceedings, but they must pay for it or find a lawyer who will perform the service without charge. Nearly four out of five detained immigrants don't have counsel.
Immigrants who have lawyers are 10 times more likely to win their civil cases, says the report, which the ACLU calls the first comprehensive review of legal access for immigrants in detention. It examines legal access at 173 out of 192 ICE facilities. It includes survey responses from 89 immigration lawyers and legal representatives on their experiences representing clients at 58 detention centers. Lack of privacy and confidentiality for attorney-client phone conversations is a problem, said Naveen Flores-Dixit, a lawyer with American Gateways, a non-profit that provides legal services to low-income immigrants in Texas. He cited a client whose immigration case included the claim that he would be endangered by MS-13, an international gang, in his home country. The client said, " was going to call you at (a scheduled) time, but I thought an MS-13 member was using the (next) phone, so I didn't feel comfortable talking to you about my case,'" Flores-Dixit said. Similarly, LGBTQ clients who feel endangered in their home countries due to their sexual orientation or gender identity are reluctant to discuss details that may be pertinent to a legal case without privacy.