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Wednesday, May 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Detained Aliens Given Class Status to Sue U.S.

(CN) - A federal judge certified a class of immigrants being held in U.S. custody while awaiting deportation proceedings who say they have been denied phone access.

Audley Barrington Lyon Jr., Edgar Cornelio, Jose Elizandro Astorga-Cervantes and Lourdes Hernandez-Trujillo filed the suit in December.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, allegedly holds the aliens in various facilities in California. At least one of the plaintiffs has been held for over a year and a half.

The plaintiffs say they are being deprived telephone access, which is critical to their ability to "locate, retain and seek advice from legal counsel," according to the complaint filed in San Francisco.

"For those who cannot afford an attorney and are not able to retain pro bono counsel, telephone contact with the outside world is essential to gather the evidence and government documents essential to defending removal charges, locate witnesses, and do other things necessary to represent themselves in complex legal proceedings," the complaint states.

ICE nevertheless routinely restricts telephone access, prolonging detentions in alleged violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The plaintiffs seek to represent a class of "all current and future immigration detainees who are, or will, be held by ICE in Contra Costa, Sacramento and Yuba counties."

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen certified them as such on April 16, rejecting the government's arguments that the four plaintiffs cannot "adequately represent any ICE detainee who alleges that his or her detention has been prolonged by inadequate telephone access" because none "can evidence any causation between their detention and allegedly inadequate telephone access."

"To the extent part of the harm includes the lengthening of detention because of telephone issues, plaintiffs have presented evidence of such," Chen wrote. "According to plaintiffs, the denial and restriction of telephone access has substantially prolonged their incarceration because e.g. they have been forced to ask for continuances to retain counsel, consult with counsel or prepare their cases."

A case-management conference is scheduled for May 22.

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