Legal Aid Group Accuses ICE of Restricting Immigrants’ Access to Legal Services

Published on May 8, 2019 by Athena Pallas

A legal aid group has filed a formal complaint with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), alleging that ICE, in concert with a private prison group, has restricted detained immigrants’ access to legal services. The complaint, lodged by the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), pertains to a specific detention center, the Karnes County detention center in Texas, which is overseen by GeoGroup, a private prison corporation working as a self-described “service provider and contractor to the federal government”, according to The Hill.

In their complaint, RAICES accuses ICE and GeoGroup of “working in cahoots” to restrict detainees’ access to legal services for more than a month, resulting in a backlog of at least 42 people waiting to meet with RAICES volunteers. According to The Hill:

RAICES Texas filed the complaint, dated Tuesday, saying its visits to the Karnes County detention center are being restricted by ICE and GEO Group. It said in the complaint that as of Monday, 42 people were waiting to meet with RAICES volunteers. “We request that ICE immediately address changes in policies and practice that have made this statutory right to consultation impossible for many persons detained at Karnes who seek to consult with RAICES and pro bono volunteers,” the group wrote to officials at ICE’s San Antonio Field Office. …”For over a month now ICE, working in cahoots with the Geo Group…created obstacles to prevent individuals detained at Karnes from accessing our free legal services.” the statement said. “ICE and GEO created these barriers because they said providing legal access was too resource intensive for GEO.”

GeoGroup, in response to the accusations and formal complaint by RAICES, indicated their stance that all responsibility on this issue lies with the federal government, not with them, with a company spokesperson indicating in a statement, according to The Hill, that, GeoGroup “plays no role in setting the policies that govern attorney visitation and legal access to the Karnes Residential Center and other ICE Processing Centers.” ICE, through a spokesperson, claimed that a change at the Karnes Center from housing families to housing only female adults has increased the number of people detained there who are seeking legal representation, which may have slowed access, but not, they claim, due to any intent to restrict access.

It remains to be seen how this formal complaint from RAICES will be handled and whether the remedies recommended by RAICES will be undertaken, but if substantiated, the allegations contribute to an overall trend that outside organizations are having to intervene to protect immigrant detainees’ basic rights, something the government itself should be working to protect. This formal complaint also highlights the issue of private prison groups working with the federal government, making large profits from those contracts, while disavowing any sharing of the responsibility for problems.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.