Skip navigation

California District Court Certifies Immigration Detainee Phone Access Class Action

by Derek Gilna

The United States District Court for the Northern District of California has certified for class action status a lawsuit by various immigration detainees against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The complaint, filed in December of 2013, alleged that DHS and ICE have provided telephone services that are unduly restrictive and expensive, and that the immigrant’s “constitutional and statutory rights are being violated while they are held in government custody pending deportation proceedings.

Prison Legal News has not only reported on exploitative prison phone systems, but has also participated in many lawsuits where prisoner communications with their family, friends, and legal representatives have been restricted.

According to the Court’s opinion, “ICE contracts with Yuba County, Sacramento County, and Contra Costa County to hold immigration detainees in the Yuba, Elk Grove and Richmond Facilities.”  These facilities are “geographically isolated from the San Francisco Immigration Court” as well as from “the immigration attorneys who practice removal defense, most of whom are based in or near San Francisco.”  In addition, the facilities are often geographically isolated from detainees’ family members or friends who might be able to help them in their immigration proceedings.

The same opinion noted that, “(b)ecause of this geographic isolation, communication by telephone is critical for detainees in these facilities. Apparently, detainees are not charged for making telephone calls to nonprofit legal service providers and certain government entities. Otherwise, however, detainees appear to be charged for calls.”

“In general,” the Court went on, ”there are two ways to make a telephone call from the Yuba, Elk Grove, and Richmond facilities: (1) a detainee can place acollect call, or (2) a family member or friend can contact the telephone service provider for the detention facility to establish a prepaid account which funds a detainee’s calls to a specific telephone number. For the Yuba and Elk Grove facilities--but not the Richmond facility--there is also a third option, namely, a detainee can use his own money to purchase a calling card.”

Such a system was not only expensive but also served to greatly limit the contact that immigration detainees at the facility had with their families and legal counsel. Even if they had the funds to make telephone calls, or the person receiving the call was inclined to accept a collect call, there was no guarantee that they would be permitted to do so during normal office hours.

The Court certified the class under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), as: “All current and future immigration detainees who are or will be held by ICE in Contra Costa, Sacramento, and Yuba Counties.”  The Court found that plaintiffs had shown that, “(1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable; (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class”; and, “the party opposing the class has acted or refused to act on grounds that apply generally to the class, so that final injunctive relief or corresponding declaratory relief is appropriate respecting the class.” The lawsuit continues, with no trial having been set.See: Audrey Barrington Lyon, Jr. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, C-13-5878 EMC, (U.S. District Court, Northern District of California 2014).

Related legal case

Audrey Barrington Lyon, Jr. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement