ATLANTA — The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released the following statement from Efrén C. Olivares, deputy legal director of the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project, in response to the stipulated dismissal of Southern Poverty Law Center v. Department of Homeland Security. The case, filed in 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenged the conditions of detention at four privately-run detention centers in the Southeast and their impact on the ability of individuals in detention to access counsel. Those facilities include the Stewart Detention Center and the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia; and LaSalle ICE Processing Center (now called the Central Louisiana ICE Processing Center) and Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana.
“The federal government chooses to detain tens of thousands of our immigrant friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers in remote, prison-like detention centers far from attorneys, their families, and other community support systems, including facilities in Louisiana and Georgia that were at the heart of this case. People are detained for months and sometimes years at a time — separated from all they know, held in dangerous and sometimes deadly conditions, while fighting, from behind bars, to stay in the little-to-no access to help or resources.
“We firmly believe that immigration detention is cruel and unnecessary, and that this practice should be phased out as quickly as possible. People who are detained have a much better chance of being released and ultimately getting to remain with their families and communities when they have legal representation. We regularly provide representation to people detained by ICE, and we are honored to provide that ray of hope for hundreds of people.
“We filed this case to ensure that our detained clients and potential clients at Stewart, Irwin, LaSalle and Pine Prairie have a meaningful opportunity to retain and communicate with attorneys and legal representatives. Over the last five years, we have achieved important wins on their behalf.
“In 2018, after the SPLC moved for a preliminary injunction to remedy dire access-to-counsel issues at LaSalle, the government conceded in a settlement agreement to improve conditions at the detention center, adding confidential consultation rooms, telephones for legal calls and a room for remote video calls.
“In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic practically foreclosed all access to counsel for our clients and potential clients detained at these facilities, the SPLC obtained a significant temporary restraining order that improved remote access-to-counsel options throughout the pandemic.
“Twice during this case, we fought back and won against the federal government’s attempts to avoid responsibility for the detention centers it operates across the county. The government asked the D.C. court to sever our case into two or more cases and transfer it to federal courts in Louisiana and Georgia — arguing, essentially, that this is a local matter that the detention centers themselves and the private prison companies the government contracts with to run them, should answer for. The SPLC successfully argued that ultimate responsibility and decision-making authority rest at Homeland Security headquarters in D.C. and that the case should remain there.
“Dismissal of this suit is not the end of the SPLC’s work against immigrant detention. We will continue to fight for, with, and on behalf of people detained in immigration detention centers across the Southeast, in and out of the courts, until no person is caged because of their immigration status.”
The case was litigated by the Southern Poverty Law Center and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP.
SPLC: ICE Must Finally Close Irwin Detention Center (August 23, 2021)
SPLC Sues DHS for Unconstitutionally Blocking Detained Immigrants’ Access to Lawyers (April 4, 2018)
Case docket for Southern Poverty Law Center v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et. al.
SPLC Report: No End in Sight (2018)