Limited Access to Legal Counsel in Immigration Detention Facilities Jeopardizes a Fair Day in Court
(September 2010) — U.S. law requires that individuals in immigration proceedings receive a “reasonable opportunity” to present their case in court. But the U.S. government routinely limits this right when it detains thousands of people in immigration detention facilities far from legal service providers, fails to adequately support programs to inform detainees of their rights, and restricts detainees’ phone contact with attorneys.
For Isolated in Detention: Limited Access to Legal Counsel in Immigration Detention Facilities Jeopardizes a Fair Day in Court, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) conducted a comprehensive national survey measuring access to counsel in detention facilities and found that the availability of affordable legal services for immigrant detainees is grossly inadequate. The geographic isolation of many detention facilities hinders detainees’ ability to obtain counsel. Policies that restrict detainees from contacting legal counsel by phone further isolate these men, women, and children.
NIJC surveyed 150 of the estimated 300 immigration detention facilities in operation between August and December 2009. The survey sample accounted for 31,355 detainee beds, the vast majority of the 32,000 beds available to hold immigrants for the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). NIJC then interviewed as many legal aid organizations providing services for detained immigrants as it was able to locate. The scope of NIJC’s survey illustrates a systemic problem facing detainees trying to access counsel: the United States detains nearly 400,000 immigrants per year, yet there are only 102 non-governmental organizations providing legal services to detainees, and the vast majority of those organizations have fewer than five staff members dedicated to detention work.
Download the Isolated in Detention report: