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May 2, 2019

ICE’s Plan Would Place Orange County Immigrants Far from Families and Attorneys

SANTA ANA — Immigrants jailed by the federal government while their deportation cases remain ongoing, sometimes for years, have two vital links to the outside world — their families and their attorneys — both of which are crucial to build cases that can lead to asylum or other legal status. But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) plans to transfer hundreds of immigrants to facilities outside California where contact with families and attorneys would be nearly impossible to maintain. 

It’s a cruel plan. It’s also unlawful.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court Central District against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to halt the transfer of these individuals to jurisdictions far from their families and attorneys. The ACLU SoCal will also file a request for a preliminary injunction to stop any transfers pending a full trial of these claims.

The suit was filed on behalf of several named plaintiffs currently jailed in the James A. Musick and Theo Lacy facilities in Orange County, and also on behalf of two legal organizations — Public Law Center in Santa Ana and Public Counsel in Los Angeles — that provide free legal services to immigrants.

“ICE’s decision to transfer immigrants thousands of miles away from their lawyers and families violates the Constitution and ICE’s own policies,” said Sameer Ahmed, ACLU SoCal senior staff attorney. “While we applaud Orange County for ending its dealings with ICE, we call on ICE to release these vulnerable immigrants so they can get a fair day in court with the support they desperately need.”

On March 27, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department announced it would terminate its contract with ICE to house up to 958 individuals because of planned renovations to its facilities. An ICE spokesperson said individuals now housed in them would be relocated in its “national system of detention bed space,” likely outside of California.

This would make it highly difficult for immigrants who have attorneys — whether paid or pro bono — to build effective cases.  And this is extremely important. A study last year in Orange County showed that approximately 27% of jailed immigrants with legal representation obtained relief from being deported. Of those who did not have representation, only 5% obtained that relief.

Mounting an asylum or other type of immigration case typically takes numerous in-depth, hours-long, in-person client interviews, frequently with the services of an interpreter. “Unless they are able to meet with their attorneys in person,” the lawsuit states, jailed immigrants “will be unable to effectively prepare for and present their immigration cases.”

The plan would also strike a harsh blow to families cut off by distance to loved ones, not only because of the vastly increased difficulty of visiting loved ones, but also because family members nearby can play a crucial role in gathering evidence needed help build cases.

“Our clients have a right to a fair hearing, which includes the right to meet with counsel and prepare for hearings,” said Talia Inlender, supervising senior staff attorney at Public Counsel. “Our clients’ lives are at stake. They and their families should not be cut off from the support and representation they desperately need.”

The transfers would violate the federal Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that gives immigrants the reasonable opportunity to present evidence on their own behalf. Immigrants also have the right, under the INA, to communicate effectively with legal representatives, and that would be hardly possible at great distances.

In addition, the lawsuit points out the transfers would violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment that guarantees full and fair hearings.

The transfers even violate ICE’s written policies. An agency’s unexplained failure to follow its own rules is a violation of the federal Administrative Procedures Act.

The lawsuit calls on ICE to release the immigrants on parole or bond. An individual who could not be released could be transferred to a detention facility elsewhere in Southern California. 

“The best solution would be to release the majority of these individuals back to their families, who are in the best position to ensure that they are able to attend their hearings, obtain the necessary evidence for their cases, and have a fair day in court,” said Monica Glicken, directing attorney of the immigration unit at Public Law Center.

Read the lawsuit