PHILADELPHIA – Today, the Transnational Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School announced it submitted a complaint on behalf of the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition (CAIR), HIAS Pennsylvania, Nationalities Service Center, and the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC), and their noncitizen clients detained at the Pike County Correctional Facility in Hawley, Pa. The complaint was filed because immigrants held at the facility are facing restricted access to legal counsel, hampering their ability to prepare for appearances in immigration court.
The complaint centers on the testimony of seven individuals, two detained at the facility and five attorneys representing clients. Their experiences reveal a pattern of systemic failures of Pike County staff and their ICE counterparts to provide adequate procedures. Examples include not allowing attorneys to schedule legal calls with clients and clients not even having access to functioning telephones. Pike County has also failed to provide a private setting for calls, surveilled confidential legal calls, inappropriately charged individuals for calls, and refused to provide the required time allotment for conversations.
“As ICE persists in detaining immigrants at detention centers geographically isolated and far removed from legal counsel, it is critical that ICE and the facilities with which they contract ensure meaningful access to counsel through free and confidential phone and video communications,” said Sarah Paoletti, Director of Penn Carey Law’s Transnational Legal Clinic. “This complaint and the testimonies provided therein highlight persistent and systemic issues that raise significant concerns regarding the ability of individuals detained in Pike County to exercise their Fifth Amendment and statutory rights to counsel.”
The complaint was submitted to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman, and Office of Inspector General.
“These failures not only jeopardize a person’s right to meaningful representation and preparation for their cases but can actually put them in danger,” said Eleni Bakst, a Managing Attorney at CAIR Coalition. “In some cases, preparation requires discussing gang violence, violence due to sexual orientation, or other information that may put them at risk. When a client is unable to discuss topics that are vital to their immigration case with their attorney, their continued detention by ICE thwarts the attorney’s ability to competently and zealously represent their client and makes it almost impossible for a client to have their day in court.”
The complaint ends with a series of recommendations that would allow Pike County to not only implement the standards required by the DHS itself but also ensure compliance with the Fifth Amendment’s right to legal counsel for individuals under its custody.
“Our ask with this complaint is simple,” said Liz Bradley, Visiting Assistant Practice Professor of Law at Penn Carey Law. “DHS must ensure the Pike County Correctional Facility complies with national standards regarding telephone access and legal calls – deliver attorney phone messages, allow attorneys to schedule and make free, confidential legal calls to their clients, and provide detained individuals a private space for legal calls. If the Pike County facility is unable to fulfill these basic obligations, ICE should terminate its contract.”
Erin Barnaby, CAIR Coalition
Meredith Rovine, Penn Carey Law