WASHINGTON, March 15, 2017 – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) has filed a federal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties within the Department of Homeland Security detailing access denials and restrictions in violation of federal policy at 14 immigration detention facilities in Arizona, California, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
“While CIVIC has experienced restrictions of public access in previous years, we are concerned that these denials and restrictions may be indicative of an emerging pattern or practice to restrict or eliminate access by the public to immigration detention facilities,” said Rebecca Merton, Program Coordinator of CIVIC’s National Visitation Network.
Over 400 organizations and individuals joined CIVIC in an additional letter urging Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to uphold its commitments to transparency and public access to the detention system by maintaining the 2011 Stakeholder Access Directive and ensuring that community members are not faced with additional restrictions when visiting people in immigration detention. Organizations who signed on include groups, such as the NAACP, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Detention Watch Network, Southern Poverty Law Center, Code Pink, and the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.
“We are deeply concerned that President Trump is trying to hide what is happening in immigration detention facilities by curtailing access to them. With a record number of immigrants being detained under the Trump Administration, we will not allow ICE to take this step backward in government transparency,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-executive director of CIVIC.
Organizations across the country have documented multiple denials of requests to conduct stakeholder tours and visitations since January 20, 2017. One recent example of a stakeholder access denial took place in February 2017, when ICE’s Washington Field Office denied a stakeholder tour and visitation of the Farmville Detention Center in Virginia that had been requested by the CIVIC-affiliated DC Detention Visitation Network, the Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice, and the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville. An Assistant ICE Field Office Director stated in his denial: “With the issuance of the recent Executive Orders, ICE is undergoing significant operational changes and is in the process of reviewing all ongoing programs, so are not initiating new programs such as the one you are proposing at this time.”
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In another February 2017 access denial, ICE cancelled a tour and legal intake session at the Santa Ana City Jail in California which had been requested by the Transgender Law Center and had previously been approved. The sudden cancellation email stated that the tour and legal intake session was no longer viewed as “consistent with the security and orderly operation of the facility.”
“The denial of legal intake sessions means immigrants in detention are less aware of their legal rights and less likely to be connected to attorneys to assist them in their cases. For many transgender immigrants, an attorney is the difference between winning their case or being deported to circumstances of extreme violence and potential death,” said Alison Pennington, staff attorney at the Transgender Law Center.
CIVIC also has documented multiple restrictions on stakeholder tours and visitations. During a stakeholder tour conducted by CIVIC in March 2017 at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California, many detained individuals who had signed up ahead of time to meet with the stakeholders were not allowed to speak with them. In one of the dorms, not a single person who had requested to meet with the stakeholders was granted the opportunity to do so.
In a letter sent to CIVIC from H.M., an individual detained at Adelanto Detention Facility, he wrote, “I highly suspect it had to do with [facility owner and operator] GEO’s institutional staff preventing our visits. This is not the first time this, or something similar, has happened.”
ICE’s Stakeholder Access Directive, established in 2011, provides a point of connection with the community for detained individuals and allows organizations to monitor and report on conditions inside detention facilities. CIVIC is urging the Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties to immediately investigate these violations of the Stakeholder Access Directive and to promptly develop protocols to ensure that public access to immigration detention facilities is maintained.