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WASHINGTON, D.C. - As U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeks new sites for immigration detention facilities, today 14 legal service providers and immigrant rights advocates alerted the agency that adding any additional jails to the already bloated immigration detention system would severely undermine due process and civil rights for thousands of detained immigrants.

The warning was contained in a joint letter responding to ICE’s October 12 request for information (RFI) to assist in the identification of new detention sites to detain up to 3,000 people each day within 180 miles of Chicago, Detroit, St. Paul, and Salt Lake City. The letter, co-authored by representatives of the pro bono legal aid organizations primarily responsible for providing legal counsel and representation for immigrants in these regions, decries further expansion of the detention system. The organizations also inform ICE that no responders have contacted any of their organizations regarding their capacity to provide pro bono legal services to a new or expanded detention facility. The government’s RFI explicitly asks responders to submit information about access to pro bono legal services. There is no right to appointed counsel in the immigration court system, so immigrants in detention are only represented if they can retain private counsel or find free legal services.

Citing recently released data from the Syracuse University Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the letter details the limited access to legal counsel already suffered by immigrants detained in these regions:

  • Only 18 percent of people facing removal from the detained docket in Chicago are represented.
  • Only 24 percent of people facing removal from the detained docket in Detroit are represented.
  • Only 10 percent of those facing removal proceedings on the detained docket in Salt Lake City are represented.
  • Only 21 percent of detained immigrants in Minnesota are represented.

“ICE knows what they’re doing here. They are well aware that the vast majority of detained immigrants do not have lawyers, and building new jails will deal a further blow to access to justice in immigration prisons,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center, a co-author of the letter. “Legal service providers in these four regions are stretched beyond reasonable limits. Further expansion will mean thousands more immigrants will be deprived of legal counsel when they face deportation from the United States, which for many people means permanent separation from their American families and deportation to situations where they face persecution and death.”

The letter details the numerous human rights violations which have been documented in the immigration detention system in recent years, as the federal government’s immigration enforcement regime has become increasingly profit-driven. “Fueled by politics and the insidious consequences of campaign donations and lobbying by the private prison industry, the immigration detention system already devalues the lives, health and safety of those jailed within its walls,” the letter states. “It is well documented that for-profit private prisons companies cut corners that maximize profits and put lives at risk.”

Download the RFI response letter here.

The letter was signed by representatives from the following organizations:

Advocates for Human Rights, Minnesota | Press contact: Michele Garnett McKenzie
American Civil Liberties Union | Press contact: Mia Jacobs
ACLU of Illinois | Press contact: Ed Yohnka
ACLU of Michigan | Press contact: Rana Elmir
ACLU of Minnesota
ACLU of Utah
ACLU of Wyoming
Detainee Rights Clinic, James H. Binger Center for New Americans, University of Minnesota Law School
Detention Watch Network | Press contact: Carly Perez
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Immigrant Legal Services, Salt Lake City
Michigan Immigrant Rights Center | Press contact: Susan Reed
Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
National Immigrant Justice Center, Chicago | Press contact: Tara Tidwell Cullen