SANTA ANA — The ACLU of Southern California today sent a letter to Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens and other officials charging that immigration detainees in the county are illegally being denied access to personal documents that could help them win asylum and other deportation cases.
The withholding of personal documents, including medical records, from detainees not only violates the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, it infringes on the standards of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is required to follow when housing federal immigration detainees.
"The Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s continued refusal to provide access to important documents denies immigration detainees their fundamental right to adequately challenge their deportation cases," said ACLU SoCal Staff Attorney Sameer Ahmed. "Given the Trump administration’s reckless targeting of immigrant communities in Orange County and across the country, immigrant detainees must be given a fair shot to fight their cases so that they can continue living in the United States with their family and friends."
The ACLU SoCal's letter details reports by several detainees. They include:
- Jessica Reyes-Zambrano, an asylum seeker from Honduras whose contact list of family members and friends was taken from her when she was booked into the James A. Musick Facility in Irvine. Her multiple requests for the document were denied even though she needed it to obtain information to back her asylum claim. She was deported without the chance to mount an adequate defense.
- Houssem Eddine Douar, an asylum seeker from Algeria, had a flash drive with crucial contact information taken from him when he was booked into the Musick jail. His multiple requests to obtain it were ignored until a pro bono attorney provided him assistance. (Most immigrant detainees cannot afford an attorney and pro bono assistance is limited, so the vast majority have to represent themselves, making access to documents all the more critical).
Other immigration detainees reported they were denied access to their medical records, which, among other things, are needed to show they had suffered physical abuse in their home countries to support asylum claims.
The withholding of these documents violates the First Amendment right to access information needed to mount a court case and the Fifth Amendment due process right to a full and fair hearing. As an important 1961 court decision put it, detainees must be given "the opportunity to prepare, serve and file whatever pleadings or other documents are necessary or appropriate."
In addition, ICE detention standards permit immigration detainees to "keep a reasonable amount of personal property in their possession, provided it poses no threat to detainee safety or facility safety."
The ACLU SoCal letter urges Orange County Jail and ICE officials to ensure that detainees are provided with access to their property needed to pursue their immigration cases.
The illegal lack of access to documents joins numerous other abuses to detainees outlined in the ACLU SoCal's exhaustive "OC Jails" report released in June. Within hours of the report’s release, Hutchens — who heads the operation of the county jails system — announced her retirement. But she is not relinquishing the post until her term ends next year.
A recent Department of Homeland Security report also cited substandard conditions for immigration detainees in Orange County, including spoiled food, unsanitary living conditions, harsh solitary confinement, and the lack of access to working telephones.