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Immigrant Access to Counsel

June 20, 2023

a hand with wrist in handcuffs on the phone close up at a desk at night
Immigrant Rights Advocacy

The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School Transnational Legal Clinic filed a complaint regarding access to counsel for individuals held in ICE custody at a Pike County Correctional Facility.

The Transnational Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School has filed 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, Pennsylvania. Immigrants held at the facility are facing restricted access to legal counsel, hampering their ability to prepare for court appearances.

The complaint alleges the Pike County facility does not comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) standards regarding detention conditions for noncitizens in ICE custody, specifically raising issues regarding access to counsel and statutory right to counsel.

A Pattern of Systemic Failure

Drawing on testimony from two detained individuals and five attorneys representing clients, the complaint documents a pattern of systemic and procedural failures, such as not allowing attorneys to schedule legal calls with clients, a lack of functioning telephones, a lack of private settings for calls and surveillance of confidential legal calls, inappropriate monetary charges for calls, and a refusal to provide the required time allotment for conversations.

Sarah Paoletti, Director, Transnational Legal Clinic Sarah Paoletti, Director, Transnational Legal Clinic“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 and Practice Professor of Law. “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.”

Students as Advocates

Michael Pattis L’24 and Mengquan Zheng L’24 worked on this case during their clinical legal studies. The student legal team interviewed CAIR Coalition attorneys and their clients held at the Pike County Correctional Facility and drafted the complaint based on the testimony.

“Professors [Liz] Bradley [Visiting Practice Assistant Professor of Law] and Paoletti helped me figure out a very complex area of the law, and as a result my partner and I put together an amazing piece of advocacy,” Pattis said. “This complaint gives a voice to people struggling with our immigration system, and I am incredibly proud to have been a part.”

Liz Bradley, Visiting Practice Assistant Professor of Law Liz Bradley, Visiting Practice Assistant Professor of LawZheng noted the importance of this advocacy is, in part, its role in making the concerns a matter of public record.

“Unless we speak out about it, the public won’t know how hard it is for detained individuals to gain confidential access to their attorneys, which is essential to prepare their cases,” Zheng said.

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. In the complaint, advocates advance a series of recommendations for Pike County to implement the standards required by the DHS and ensure compliance with the Fifth Amendment’s right to legal counsel for individuals under its custody.

“Our ask with this complaint is simple,” said Bradley. “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.”

Read the full complaint.