ICE facility maintained by GEO Group is blocking access to lawyers for detained immigrants
According to the Miami New Times, a facility ran by one of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) top contractors, the GEO Group, has been engaging in practices that make it difficult or impossible for those who are being detained to obtain lawyers. This practice has lead Ben Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, to release a statement condemning the actions of the United States government: “The US government has placed arbitrary barriers between immigrant detainees and their lawyers which must be eliminated if justice is to be served.”
The Adelanto detention center, located about 90 miles north of Los Angeles, California, is no stranger to controversy. Just last year, it was accused of involvement in three deaths at the facility over the course of one year. This time, the facility is being accused of depriving immigrants like Desmond Tenghe of basic services, with Tenghe saying that ICE refuses to transfer funds from his commissary and that GEO charges him a week’s salary (roughly about 7$) for a ten minute phone call, according to a lawsuit.
Tenghe also says that he has a sponsor in Maryland, but because of the problems he’s had using phone services at the GEO facility, it has taken him two months to even connect with them. Because of this, he missed a December 10th deadline that was the last opportunity for him to file asylum documentation, and he doesn’t have a lawyer for his upcoming final hearing on December 19th.
According to the lawsuit on behalf of Tenghe and other detainees, GEO and ICE have no message systems for lawyers to reliably contact clients who are being housed in their facility, and all calls coming into the facility are recorded, violating attorney-client privileges. Additionally, there are only ten rooms in the entire facility that must be split between nearly 2,000 detainees, a situation that makes it nearly impossible for everyone to be served as their needs require.
According to the lawsuit, “Over the course of weeks, Plaintiff Tenghe tried to call at least seven different legal organizations, including Catholic Charities, El Rescate, and others. Due to Defendants’ ‘positive acceptance’ requirement for telephone calls, the telephone calls have either disconnected after ringing once or twice or continued to ring without answer. Plaintiff Tenghe has also attempted to call Catholic Charities to obtain documents about current country conditions in his country of origin, but those telephone calls also have not connected because of Defendants’ ‘positive acceptance’ requirement.”
The GEO Group issued a statement in response arguing that “As a services provider to ICE, GEO plays no role in establishing immigration law and we comply with the performance-based standards set by the government.” A spokesperson explained, “We would prefer specific questions about these policies [be addressed] to ICE.”
Meeth Soni, co-legal director at the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, told the Miami New Times, “Legal representation is fundamental to ensuring due process for immigrants facing removal, but when our detained clients can’t effectively communicate with us, our abilities to be effective advocates are compromised.” The ACLU along with other groups like Soni’s has warned repeatedly that these kinds of practices inside Adelanto and presumably other immigrant detention centers will create a snowball effect for immigrants who cannot find lawyers in time to file the necessary paperwork to prevent their deportation or continued incarceration.