As Congress Weighs Trump Administration’s Request to Expand Immigration Detention Funding, Barriers to Legal Counsel at Remote Cibola County Correctional Center Illustrate Systemic Rights Violations
MILAN, New Mexico – In its report, What Kind of Miracle, released today, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) exposes the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) systematic violation of immigrants’ due process rights at the for-profit Cibola County Correctional Facility here. NIJC’s comprehensive survey of immigration legal service providers found that the opening of this isolated and massive immigration prison has left hundreds of detained immigrants without meaningful access to counsel as they face deportation. In most cases, individuals facing permanent separation from families or exile to places where they face persecution are left to defend themselves in complex court hearings.
Read the report: immigrantjustice.org/CibolaReport
As Congress considers the Trump administration’s request to fund its massive expansion of the immigration detention system, NIJC calls on lawmakers to refuse the use of taxpayer dollars to lock up people without access to lawyers, and demands that DHS discontinue the detention of immigrants in circumstances such as those trapped in Cibola.
“The hurdles immigrants at Cibola face when they try to find a lawyer are not an anomaly – they are the norm,” said Heidi Altman, NIJC’s director of policy and the report's author. “DHS knows that jailing people far from their loved ones and far from lawyers strips them of their ability to effectively defend against deportation. Building more prisons to detain more immigrants in isolated locations is central to the administration’s all-out attack on immigrant communities in the United States.”
DHS pays CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, at least $2.5 million monthly to detain up to 1,100 immigrants at the Cibola prison. DHS re-opened the prison in October 2016, three months after the Department of Justice ended its contract with the facility following reports of severe human rights violations.
More key findings from the report include:
- NIJC’s comprehensive survey of immigration legal service providers found that only 21 immigration lawyers in New Mexico and Texas are available to provide legal services to a maximum of 42 immigrants detained at the Cibola prison, meaning counsel is available to no more than six percent of the 689 immigrants DHS said were held at Cibola in April 2017, and less than four percent of the prison’s maximum capacity.
- When NIJC visited Cibola in June 2017, many of the people there were recently arrived asylum seekers in acute need of specialized medical and mental health services.
- The report includes interviews with immigrants detained at Cibola describing their frustration at the lack of legal representation. One asylum seeker told an immigration judge: “So now, right here, I’m in the jail. I’m in detention. … I don’t know how things work here. In asylum, I have to stay in jail. How am I going to get that attorney if I’m here?”
- For years, NIJC and other nongovernmental organizations have called on DHS to prioritize immigrants’ right to legal counsel in detention. At Cibola, it is clear the agency has no intention of respecting this basic right. In fact, DHS is currently plowing ahead with plans to increase the system’s capacity by up to 4,000 more beds throughout Texas and the Midwest, without addressing concerns raised by NIJC and other legal service providers regarding the dearth of immigration lawyers available to reach new jails in these areas.