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ICE Settles Suit Filed by Immigration Detainees, Pays $405,000 in Attorney Fees

by Derek Gilna

Immigration and Customs (ICE) officials in northern California agreed to settle a three-year-old federal class-action lawsuit that focused on ICE policies which unnecessarily restricted the ability of immigration detainees to communicate with their counsel and prepare for court hearings. The November 2016 settlement required ICE to pay $405,000 in attorney fees and change various procedures regarding how detainees can contact their legal representatives.

According to the original complaint, ICE was accused of committing various due process violations, including unduly limiting detainees’ phone calls to family members and attorneys who were helping them prepare for immigration removal proceedings.

 “Defendants have violated Plaintiffs’ right to representation of counsel by denying and severely restricting Plaintiffs’ ability to make telephone calls to locate, consult with, and retain counsel, and Plaintiffs’ ability to communicate with retained counsel,” the complaint stated. Additionally, it alleged that such restrictions “violated Plaintiffs’ right to a full and fair hearing by severely restricting [their] ability to make telephone calls to gather information and obtain evidence in support of their immigration cases.”

Further complicating the ability of detainees to find counsel and ensure fair court hearings was the fact that most immigration attorneys were located more than an hour away from ICE detention facilities, placing even greater importance on the need for adequate phone access. Notably, immigration detainees do not have a right to counsel and must arrange their own legal representation if they are able to do so.

The settlement in the class-action case, approved by U.S. District Court Judge Edward M. Chen, covers four detention facilities – the Yuba County Jail, Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Sacramento County, West County Detention Facility in Contra Costa County and Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Kern County. ICE will now be required to provide immigration detainees with increased unmonitored phone access to more approved attorneys and government agencies, and permit them to leave voice mail messages. Additionally, detainees will be able to make phone calls at any time during the day; those without funds will still be allowed to place calls.

Julia Mass, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said of the agreement: “We think it can be a model for facilities throughout the United States. The settlement provides feasible alternatives that should be adopted by ICE.”

She also noted that the terms of the settlement make it much more likely detainees will receive fair hearings in ICE removal proceedings. See: Lyon v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Cal.), Case No. 3:13-cv-05878-EMC. 


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Related legal case

Lyon v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement