SPLC seeks judge’s order requiring ICE to improve detainees’ access to attorneys

The SPLC asked a judge today to immediately increase attorneys’ access to their clients at LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana.  

In its emergency request for a preliminary injunction, the SPLC is asking a judge to order federal immigration officials to make additional space at the prison so attorneys can have confidential conversations with clients. The SPLC is also asking the judge to order U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to make confidential phone lines available for attorney-client meetings, and to allow phone calls between attorneys and clients to continue as long as necessary.   

The request comes just weeks after ICE raided a meatpacking plant in Tennessee that led to the arrest of nearly 100 workers. ICE then transferred many of these workers 700 miles away from their homes to imprison them at LaSalle.

LaSalle has only one attorney visitation room, although the prison can hold over 1,200 detainees. Telephone calls between attorneys and clients must be arranged a week in advance, and are limited to 20 minutes, which is not enough time to provide meaningful representation, the SPLC argues in its request. 

“Having one attorney visitation room for a facility that can hold 1,200 individuals with pending immigration cases is categorically unreasonable,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “The conditions are intolerable for clients seeking to obtain ethical, competent legal representation.”  

The request is part of a lawsuit the SPLC filed on April 4 against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ICE and federal officials. The case, which is before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges unconstitutional limitations on immigrants’ access to counsel at LaSalle and two additional detention centers in the South.

“This is a crisis of DHS’ own making, as it continues to choose to imprison immigrants in facilities that are incapable of meeting even the most basic requirements for access to counsel,” Graybill said.

In addition to litigating the case, the SPLC is also the named plaintiff in the suit on behalf of itself and its clients who are detained at LaSalle as well as at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, and Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. Serving as the SPLC’s co-counsel are Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP and the Law Offices of Melissa Crow.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees people in removal proceedings the right to a lawyer at their own expense and a full and fair hearing. In spite of these constitutional requirements, the suit alleges, the defendants maintain policies and practices that prevent detainees at LaSalle, Irwin and Stewart from meaningfully accessing and communicating with legal counsel.

The LaSalle, Irwin and Stewart facilities have among the lowest attorney representation rates in the country, and the impact is substantial. According to a recent SPLC report on shadow prisons, immigrant detainees with access to lawyers are 10.5 times more likely to win their cases, compared to detainees without a lawyer.

Once released from detention, detainees with lawyers are nearly 20 times more likely to have a successful case than detainees who represent themselves. Meanwhile, people with lawyers are almost seven times more likely to be released from detention centers than if they do not have the help of a lawyer.

Through its Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI), a project of the SPLC that enlists and trains volunteer lawyers to provide free legal representation to detained people facing deportation proceedings in the Southeast, the SPLC was representing 15 detainees at LaSalle before the raids, and added over 20 new clients from the raids. 

The suit also alleges that the defendants’ conduct violates the SPLC’s First Amendment right to represent civil detainees.

The Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) is a project of the SPLC that enlists and trains volunteer lawyers to provide free legal representation to detained immigrants facing deportation proceedings in the Southeast.