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SPLC: Detention center must provide detained immigrants with law library access

Detainees at a privately operated immigrant detention center in Folkston, Georgia, are routinely denied access to its law library – a violation of their constitutional rights that must be immediately corrected, the SPLC and Ericka Curran, a clinical law professor, said in a letter sent to the warden and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials today.

The letter outlines practices at the Folkston ICE Processing Center that violate the due process rights of detainees, particularly detainees representing themselves because they cannot afford an attorney. It also describes how the practices violate the Performance Based National Detention Standards that provide guidelines for the operation of such facilities. The Folkston facility is operated by GEO Group, Inc.

“The expense of hiring an attorney, combined with language barriers and the remote, rural location of most detention facilities, prevent many detained immigrants from hiring their own lawyers,” said Lisa Graybill, SPLC deputy legal director. “As a result, they routinely represent themselves in court. They desperately need access to the law library to put together their cases. Failure to provide this access blatantly disregards their rights to fair legal representation and due process.”

The letter demands remedies to violations that include the following:

  • The library lacks a clear schedule that provides detainees with regular access. The erratic schedule, which fails to meet standards requiring at least five hours of access per week, frequently means detainees are forced to choose between recreation time and library time. The letter demands immediate implementation of a clear schedule that does not require detainees to forfeit their recreation time.
  • Detainees are not permitted to retain their legal materials outside the library, including flash drives used to store digital legal documents. The prohibition means officers frequently handle detainees’ flash drives, even loading their contents onto law library computers for them – potentially allowing officers to view privileged legal documents. Folkston must allow detainees to keep personal legal files with them. The detention center also must provide a secure way for detainees to store and easily access the files.

“Unrepresented detained asylum seekers having been reaching out to our law clinic over the past few months complaining about lack of access to the law library,” said Curran, a clinical professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law. “Many of those we have encountered difficulty preparing their asylum cases and or applications to seek parole.”

The lack of library access also has implications for the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI), a SPLC project that provides pro bono representation to detained immigrants and plans to offer its services at the Folkston facility later this year.

“To ensure that volunteer attorneys can provide the best representation for Folkston detainees, it is critical that our clients have full access to the law library’s resources as they work with attorneys on their case,” said Dan Werner, SIFI director. “The detention center should not be creating obstacles that prevent these detainees from effectively presenting their case in court.”