US gives immigrant detainees better phone access

Immigrants being held in detention in four lockups in the state of California, including the one that the Sheriff’s Department of Sacramento County are responsible for running, have been given telephone access to allow them to get legal help after a class action lawsuit.

Yesterday, the lawsuit resulted in the announcement of a settlement that sees US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreeing to loosen restrictions on the use of telephones that many of the detainees’ lawyers claim made it almost impossible for immigrants to gain legal assistance and to gather the documents they would require in order for them to be able to remain in the United States. The class action was bolstered by sworn declarations from the detainees, including one from a 49-year-old man who arrived in the US from Mexico when he was just five years old, who, following a minor traffic violation was taken into and spent months in custody because he was unable to get legal assistance, primarily because of poor access to phones.

Lawyers say that this lack of access is a violation of the rights of detainees to be able to get a full and fair hearing under the US Constitution and federal law.

The provisions in the settlement include speed dials to let detainees make direct, free and unmonitored phone calls to immigration attorneys offering free legal help and government offices, with 40 phone booths to be distributed between the four lockups as well as private rooms for the calls.