Deal Lets Immigrant Detainees Use Phones

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The government has agreed to allow thousands of immigrant detainees to use the phones at four U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities in California.
     The new policy is part of a settlement agreement between the government and a class of immigrants being held at several facilities throughout the state who, in a 2013 lawsuit, claimed they were routinely denied phone access while awaiting deportation proceedings.
     The class cited prohibitively expensive phone charges, timed cutoffs, and automatic disconnection if calls went to voicemail or an automated system.
     I.P., a 49-year-old man who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border when he was 5, described in a statement the frustration of trying to contact 15 attorneys while in custody. I.P. was detained after being pulled over for a traffic violation.
     “Making phone calls was expensive, difficult and frustrating. Each week, I’d see people give up and sign their deportation papers because they couldn’t reach anyone,” I.P. said. “Many of the men in detention had families and couldn’t afford to wait the weeks it took to make phone calls, so they just surrendered.”
     I.P., who asked for anonymity while his case is ongoing, is one of the lead plaintiffs in the case.
     The settlement, which must be approved by U.S. District Judge Edward Chen, stipulates that detainees are ensured free, unmonitored calls to pro bono immigration attorneys. U.S. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement, or ICE, agreed to make a list of attorneys who can receive calls without the need for a live person to answer.
     Detainees will also be permitted to call family and friends for testimony and documents and other help in their immigration cases.
     The settlement applies to Yuba County Jail, Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Sacramento County, West County Detention Facility in Contra Costa County, and the privately-run Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Kern County.
     A copy of the settlement was provided to Courthouse News Tuesday morning. It outlines a plan to install 40 private phone booths at each facility, which will be made available to detainees during waking hours.
     Facilitators will be on-site to ensure timely phone access, and facilities will offer credit to those who can’t afford to make paid calls. ICE also consented to extend phone calls to certain nonprofits and consulates from 20 minutes to 40 minutes and from 15 minutes to 60 minutes, respectively.
     In an interview, American Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney Julia Harumi Mass said the agreement could have nationwide implications.
     “It is certainly my hope that by implementing these changes in these facilities, it will set a practical precedent,” she said. “Other facilities will see the feasibility of doing so and other immigrants who are struggling to contact counsel for consultations and obtain representation will be able to point to our settlement.”
     The agreement already has requirements that will apply to all facilities with which ICE contracts, Mass noted, such as ICE’s agreement to change inspection forms used nationwide to evaluate timeliness and privacy standards for legal calls.
     ICE has one year to make the changes, and after that, the settlement will be enforceable for four. The agency will also pay $405,000 in attorneys’ fees and expenses.
     Mass said all of the lead plaintiffs support the agreement.
     “They’re all happy and excited to have been part of this case, having been stymied and frustrated by the lack of telephone access and the inability to reach lawyers or others they needed to talk to,” she said.

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