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Government Agreement Permits Immigrant Detainees to Use Phones

phone-booth-1439052_640A new government deal now gives phone access to thousands of undocumented immigrant detainees across four California Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. The new policy was enacted as part of a settlement agreement between the government and several immigrants currently held inside different facilities in California. The detainees filed a lawsuit in 2013, claiming they were denied phone access while awaiting removal proceedings.

Changes to Expensive Phone Calls and Red Tape

The class action lawsuit argued against excessive phone fees, timed cutoffs, and automatic phone disconnection after calls were diverted to automated systems or voicemail.

One of the detainees is I.P., a 49-year-old immigrant who illegally entered the United States when he was 5-years-old. After being held for a traffic violation, I.P. expressed frustration over the difficulty of getting a hold of a lawyer, having had to contact 15 lawyers while being detained in an ICE facility.

According to I.P., using the phone was expensive and difficult, so much so that he saw several people give up on getting a lawyer, ending up signing their deportation papers. Many of these people had families and could not afford to wait for weeks just to make a phone call, so they simply waived their right to an attorney and surrendered to the removal process.

I.P. is one of the case’s lead plaintiffs and requested to keep his identity a secret while the case proceedings are ongoing.

Settlement Stipulations

The settlement, now awaiting approval by U.S. District Judge Edward Chen, requires the ICE to provide free, private phone calls to pro bon immigration attorneys. ICE agreed, but only on the condition that they would make a list of lawyers who could take phone calls without needing an actual person to answer. The agreement also allows immigrant detainees to call their family and friends for documents, testimonies, and other forms of assistance with their cases.

The settlement applies to the following immigration facilities:

  • Mesa Verde Detention Facility (a private detention center in Kern County)
  • Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center (Sacramento County)
  • West County Detention Facility ( Contra Costa County)
  • Yuba County Jail

The government deal also requires the installation of 40 private telephone booths across the 4 facilities. Facilitators will be assigned to each detention center to ensure detainees get timely access to phone calls, as well as credit to those who can’t afford the charges for paid calls.

ICE also relented to longer phone calls to a number of nonprofit groups, with extensions of 20 minutes to 40 minutes, as well as phone calls to consulates, with extensions of 15 minutes to 60 minutes.

ICE has been given one year to comply with all the required changes, after which the settlement shall be enforced for four years. The agency will also shoulder the cost of all attorney’s fees and expenses, set to the tune of $405,000.

To learn more about the details of this settlement and its effect on immigrant rights, contact the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm and set an appointment for a consultation. Call us at (512) 215.5225.