NEW ORLEANS — In 2022, as we marked 20 years of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the ACLU of Louisiana and immigrants’ rights coalition partners — National Immigration Project (NIPNLG), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFK), and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) — launched a legal rights initiative designed to provide people detained in Louisiana with knowledge about their right to seek relief before federal courts through the writ of habeas corpus. In conjunction with Covington & Burling LLP, the group developed and distributed “Pro Se” materials in eight languages to detention centers.
As part of the legal rights initiative, ACLU of Louisiana and coalition partners began to take regular trips to six of Louisiana’s eight U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities. The organizations have met with more than 3,000 people seeking due process through our courts, most of whom have emphatically stated that they do not understand why they are in detention, and that they are unaware how to defend against deportation.
“Immigrant detention has exploded since the early 2000s, and here in Louisiana, it’s been a boon to for-profit private prison giants, which continue to benefit from our taxpayer dollars,” said ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director Nora Ahmed. “Mass immigrant detention is harmful and deprives people of liberty — but most of all, it is unnecessary. Many people languish in detention for years suffering medical neglect, sexual assault, dangerously unsanitary conditions, beatings, and retaliation when they protest. And the detention site operators, including these private prison giants, often enjoy impunity for these abuses.”
“Over the last decade, the federal government has quietly disappeared tens of thousands of asylum seekers, lawful permanent residents, and other immigrants fighting deportation to rural jails in Louisiana. Today, Louisiana holds the nation’s second largest population of immigrants in detention, isolated from family, community, and legal support and subjected to abusive conditions. The system is inherently abusive, using the threat of indefinite detention to pressure people to abandon valid claims for legal protection,” said Anthony Enriquez, VP of U.S. Advocacy and Litigation at Robert. F. Kennedy Human Rights.
“Since taking office, President Biden has nearly doubled the number of migrants held in immigration detention, which has further inflated the number of migrants behind bars in Louisiana,” said Matt Vogel, Supervising Attorney at the National Immigration Project. “It is well-documented and proven that - no matter who it's run by — immigration detention is an inherently abusive, inhumane, and unnecessary practice. We must put an end to immigration detention and allow people to navigate their immigration cases alongside their families and communities and with access to the language and legal resources they need.”
“People detained by ICE are trapped in horrific conditions and deprived of the essential tools necessary to realize their rights under U.S. and international law to seek asylum, defend against removal, and access federal court — not least of which are key case documents translated in a language that they understand, access to interpreters, accommodations if they do not read or write, and enough time to fill out critical and potentially life-saving court filings. Having a fair proceeding is impossible while in ICE detention, but this initiative gives us the opportunity to fill some gaps in the process,” said Rose Murray, Senior Direct Services Attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project.
Seven of Louisiana’s eight ICE facilities are part of the for-profit prison industrial complex. The entire system is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties after years of complaints of abusive conditions. People detained report substandard medical care resulting in life-threatening conditions, physical abuse from guards, retaliatory use of solitary confinement, and arbitrary confiscation of legal documents needed for court cases.
The vast majority of immigrants brought to the state have been left behind bars for months on end and deprived of native language-accessible information that would help them understand their legal rights in detention and in removal proceedings. Additionally, they lack access to interpreters, and access to law library materials. People detained are denied dignity or respect by prison staff, including by the private prison operators that enrich themselves through imprisonment of people seeking protection in the United States or have lived in the United States for a number of years and have been detained without any notice or warning.
This year, as immigrant rights’ advocates work together to end arbitrary detention of immigrants, the ACLU of Louisiana and coalition partners will continue visiting detention facilities in Louisiana monthly to ensure people understand their legal rights and to continue advocating for those facing medical neglect. The group will continue to maintain an open line of communication with the federal government, including with respect to its ongoing investigation into civil rights abuses throughout Louisiana immigration detention.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people.
The National Immigration Project (NIPNLG) is a national non-profit organization that provides technical assistance and support to community-based immigrant organizations, legal practitioners, and all advocates seeking and working to advance the rights of noncitizens. NIPNLG utilizes impact litigation, advocacy, and public education to pursue its mission. Learn more at nipnlg.org. Follow NIPNLG on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @NIPNLG.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to realize Robert F. Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world since 1968. In partnership with local activists, we advocate for key human rights issues— championing change makers and pursuing strategic litigation at home and around the world. And to ensure change that lasts, we foster a social-good approach to business and investment and educate millions of students about human rights and social justice. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Twitter: @RFKHumanRights