For immigrants facing deportation, assistance from attorneys can make a profound difference in the outcome of their cases — immigrants with lawyers have an overwhelmingly better chance of being able to stay in the U.S. For asylum seekers, it can be a matter of life or death.

But at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers in Southern California — the Theo Lacy and James A. Musick facilities in Orange County operated by the Orange County Sheriff, and the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County operated by Geo — officials make it nearly impossible for many detainees to contact and consult with attorneys. That violates not only the Immigration and Nationality Act, but also the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.

Telephone access is severely restricted, non-confidential, and expensive to the point that many detainees have had no opportunity to contact organizations or private attorneys for legal help. The phone systems won't allow detainees to leave recorded messages or navigate an automated menu to reach a live individual — it cuts them off if the call is not answered by a live person.

The lawsuit also charges that the detainee facilities have very few or no private consultation rooms. In many cases, detainees and lawyers are forced to meet where their conversations can be easily overheard.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the Immigrants' Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School have filed a class action lawsuit against ICE, the Orange County Sheriff's Department, and the private prison operator Geo Group, Inc. for creating unlawful barriers to attorney-client communications.

Case Developments

April 11, 2020
A court ruled that ICE officials must revise their COVID-19 policies at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center to allow confidential conversations between detainees and attorneys. Read the order.

March 26, 2020
Adelanto Detention Center now requires attorneys to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including N-95 or surgical masks and eye protection, in order to visit people detained there. This policy essentially blocks access to counsel, as PPE is exceeding difficult to obtain during the COVID-19 pandemic, and phone access to reach counsel is severely restricted and non-confidential. Along with partners, we filed a temporary restraining order to ensure that immigration detainees at Adelanto have basic access to counsel. Read the TRO.

October 24, 2019
Order denying DHS and GEO's motions to dismiss. Read the order.

December 17, 2018
Complaint filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California.


Jennifer Stark, Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School; Michael Kaufman, ACLU SoCal

Date filed

December 17, 2018


United States District Court, Central District of California



Case number