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Immigration Law

Hang-Up Limits Detainee Lawyer Access

Posted Jul 13, 2007 4:02 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Faulty phone systems and outdated phone numbers are barring immigration detainees from calling their lawyers, according to a report by Government Accountability Office.

Detainees are not permitted access to public defenders and don’t have other protections available to criminal defendants. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has nonetheless agreed to nonbinding ABA detention guidelines that give detainees telephone access to lawyers, the Washington Post reports.

But a GAO study of 23 detention sites found that detainees’ calls were completed as little as 35 percent of the time for some months in the year ending November 2006. Other problems hampered detainees' ability to file grievances, the report said.

The report said the GAO needs to test its phone systems more often to make sure they are working and should update posted phone numbers for legal services and consulates, according to GovernmentExecutive.com.

"Without sufficient internal control policies and procedures in place, ICE is unable to offer assurance that detainees can access legal services, file external grievances and obtain assistance from their consulates," the report said.

ABA President Karen J. Mathis told the Post that the importance of access to legal counsel cannot be overstated. "When the detention standards are not implemented properly . . . immigrants in detention are denied due process," she said.

A spokeswoman said the agency is working to improve its phone service.

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