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June 20, 2018

Government Refusal to Allow Attorneys to Advise Detainees is Unconstitutional

LOS ANGELES — The Trump administration is incarcerating hundreds of civil immigration detainees incommunicado at a prison complex in Victorville, California. For the past week, the detainees have been denied all access to attorneys, including pro bono lawyers who wanted to give them legal advice on handling their cases that could be a matter of life and death. Many of those held include individuals subject to the administration's "zero-tolerance" policies, under which children have been forcibly separated from their parents.

Last night, the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Southern California filed an emergency lawsuit to put an immediate end to the unconstitutional denial of attorney access to the detainees housed in the prison.

Even attorneys who already had professional relationships with detainees before they were forcibly moved to Victorville were cut off from clients. Volunteer lawyers who sought to hold "know your rights" sessions in the prison were likewise turned away. In addition, the detainees appear to have been allowed little or no communication with family members.

These actions by the Trump administration violate the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, the First Amendment, federal detention standards, the Administrative Procedures Act, and the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The emergency lawsuit asks that officials be forced to drop all actions that prevent attorneys from visiting or communicating with immigration detainees at the Victorville prison.

"In countries around the world, holding prisoners incommunicado, with no access to legal help or even family, is the hallmark of despots and dictators," said Michael Kaufman, Sullivan & Cromwell Access to Justice senior staff attorney at the ACLU SoCal. "These tactics have no place in a country committed to the rule of law and basic due process."

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, include the non-profit Immigrant Defenders Law Center (Imm Def) that provides free legal services to noncitizens in Southern California. Attorneys from Imm Def attempting to visit the detainees were turned away from the Victorville prison even though they followed prescribed procedures.

"All we are seeking is to provide free legal services to detained immigrants at Victorville on the same terms allowed at other immigration detention centers," said Lindsay Toczylowksi, executive director of Imm Def. "Legal assistance is essential for people facing our extraordinarily complicated immigration system."

Another plaintiff is attorney Gabriela Lopez, who was retained by detainee Gustavo Rodriguez Castillo to represent him. She has been denied all access to Rodriguez Castillo since he was transferred to the Victorville prison. Rodriguez Castillo is also a named plaintiff.

Legal assistance is especially essential for noncitizens trying to navigate the notoriously complicated immigration laws and regulations that are commonly considered second only to the tax code in complexity. The legal help is particularly critical for asylum seekers who face deportation to a country where they might be persecuted, tortured, or killed.

Read the lawsuit here: