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Pro Bono Group Files Federal Lawsuit, Claims New ICE Policy Infringes on First Amendment

courthouse-1223279_640-1-300x200A Dilley-based legal group, with the support of several other organizations, recently filed a complaint against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), alleging that the agency deliberately interfered with client representation with its new policy.

The recently formulated ICE policy makes agency approval a necessity for acquiring proper mental health examinations for detainees, adding another hurdle for attorneys to serve their clients. According to the plaintiffs, the policy in question places the government in a position of greater control over immigration proceedings, pointing out that ICE may choose to take weeks before responding to requests, and may even not reply with an affirmative.

It’s worth noting that getting mental health examinations was once a routine procedure.

The Dilley Pro Bono Project, which represents multiple families detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center, one of the largest ICE family detention facilities in Dilley, Texas, approached the Washington, D.C. federal court last week to formally oppose the new ICE policy through a complaint.

The complaint, filed against ICE, the Department of Homeland Security, and both agencies’ top officials, claims the new policy forces lawyers to decide whether to represent their clients properly or have access to their housing facility. It further states that the new policy is both “unlawful” and “interferes with First Amendment and statutory rights of association and consultation that exist between detained immigrants and pro-bono legal services providers.”

Moreover, the 24-page complaint highlights that mental health evaluations are especially significant to the detained families, stating that “the mothers and children held in STFRC have fled some of the most violent countries in the world.” Mental health examinations are, according to the project, often “a crucial piece of evidence for them.”

The pro bono group’s suspicions are not without basis. The lawsuit narrates how one of the Project’s own legal assistants, Caroline Perris, was barred from entering the facility despite having previously set up a mental health evaluation for a client. After arranging for an over-the-phone assessment and submitting the appropriate request from, ICE called in to revoke her license to re-enter the facility without mentioning their grounds for doing so.

It took an appeal for ICE to inform Perris of the new requirements for over-the-phone mental health evaluations, the complaint claims.

The new policy represents a sharp turn in ICE operations. Whereas legal assistants and lawyers representing STFRC detainees were once permitted to enter the facility for confidential meetings set for clients to receive mental health evaluations over secured phone lines, they are now finding their visiting licenses revoked.

Agency policy prohibits ICE from prematurely commenting on the pending suit.

For more immigration news and updates, be sure to follow this blog. If you, or a loved one, are involved in an immigration case and want to know your rights, schedule a consultation with the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today to learn more about how Austin immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle can help you.