DearColleague.us

Letter

 

From: The Honorable Jose E. Serrano
Sent By:
marcus.garza@mail.house.gov

Date: 8/31/2016

Tell ICE to Expand Phone Access for Individuals in Detention Facilities Nationwide

 

Supported by ACLU, Women's Refugee Commission, Human Rights Watch, Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition (CAIR)

 

Dear Colleague,

I write to ask you to join me in sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) asking them for their commitment to expanding phone access for individuals housed at ICE and ICE contracted detention facilities nationwide.  Meaningful phone access is a critical element in ensuring fairness for detained individuals who are seeking to mount a defense in an immigration proceeding.

Earlier this summer, DHS settled a lawsuit in the Northern District of California in which they committed to numerous reforms to expand access to telephones at four detention
facilities.  In that case, the plaintiffs, who were detainees at those facilities, were faced with unnecessary physical and technical barriers to telephone access- including limited hours and access, a lack of privacy for confidential conversations, and phone
systems that blocked detainees from leaving voicemails, among other things.  As a result, they faced severe difficulties in basic tasks like obtaining counsel, securing witnesses, and gathering relevant documents. The settlement agreement mandated numerous
reforms to facilitate telephone access and address these concerns by expanding access to phone lines, increasing efforts to assist indigent defendants, and informing detainees of their telephone options.

While I believe these are important steps forward, these reforms have not been instituted at the more than 100 ICE and ICE contracted facilities outside of the Northern
District of California.  Many detainees are housed at facilities far from their city of residence, and far from the immigration court that will eventually hear their case.  Adequate privacy and access to telephones is a crucial part of determining their options
and if need be, mounting a defense, in their removal proceedings.  It is important that DHS commit to implementing these same changes nationwide, so that all detained individuals have the ability to mount a vigorous defense and obtain counsel, as is consistent
with their constitutional rights.

I hope you will join me in urging the Department of Homeland Security to ensure fair hearings for all individuals by expanding these telephone access reforms.  If you
would like to sign the letter, or if you have any questions, please contact Matt Alpert of my office at
matthew.alpert@mail.house.gov or (202) 225-4361. 

Sincerely,

José E. Serrano

Member of Congress

 

Letter Text:

September XX, 2016

The Honorable Jeh Johnson
Secretary of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

 

Dear Secretary Johnson,

We write to urge you to commit to reforming the telephone access policies at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and ICE contract detention facilities nationwide.
Easy and meaningful access to telephones is crucial to ensure fairness for detained individuals who are seeking to obtain counsel and to review their options in a removal proceeding.  The agency recently agreed to a number of important reforms in response
to a lawsuit in the Northern District of California, and we believe that ICE should institute those reforms at all facilities. 

Earlier this year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement entered into a settlement agreement in the case of
Lyon v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agreement, which was executed in June, mandates reforms to expand telephone access and privacy for individuals detained at four detention facilities in California. We applaud the agency for settling
this case, and we believe it will provide many detained individuals with the ability to obtain effective counsel and mount vigorous defenses in their immigration proceedings, consistent with their constitutional rights. 

However, we remain concerned by the tens of thousands of individuals detained by ICE in facilities that do not fall under this settlement agreement. That is why we write
to urge ICE to commit to expanding these policies to all detention facilities nationwide. The issues that affect these four detention facilities are common to many ICE and ICE contract detention facilities, and we believe that a commitment to reform will prevent
further costly litigation and ensure the constitutional rights of all individuals detained by ICE.

Access to telephones is a crucial element for those seeking to obtain counsel and mount a defense at their removal hearing (whether with or without counsel). Because many
detainees are housed at detention facilities far from their city of residence, and far from the immigration court that will eventually hear their case, it is difficult to develop a defense absent adequate phone access. In the facilities at issue in the
Lyon case, unnecessary physical and technical barriers (such as phone systems that blocked detainees from leaving voicemails or navigating automated answering systems, limited their ability to make calls during business hours, failed to provide privacy
for confidential conversations, offered no access to international calls, and provided no regular methods for scheduling calls or receiving messages from outside callers) impeded basic tasks such as obtaining and staying in contact with counsel, gathering
relevant documents, and securing witnesses. Even in the situations where ICE had created workarounds to partially address these deficiencies, many detainees were not fully aware of their telephone rights. Moreover, for those who are indigent, even making a
phone call can be next to impossible without access to free case-related phone calls. That is why these reforms are so important.

Although we are not asking for a specific timeline in making these changes nationwide, we do ask for your pledge to ensure that all detainees can benefit from these reforms.
We thank you for your consideration and look forward to your response.  

Sincerely,