The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday over federal immigration authorities’ plans to transfer hundreds of Southern California’s detained immigrants outside the state while they wait for their immigration cases to move forward.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees will no longer be housed in Orange County jails beginning Aug. 1 after the county sheriff’s department announced in March that it would not renew its more than decade-long contract with ICE, which ends in 2020, according to the Los Angeles Times. ICE has said the immigrants could be transferred farther away, prompting the ACLU SoCal’s federal lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.
The ACLU said in a press release that the transfers would make it extremely difficult for detained immigrants to maintain contact with their lawyers and families as they wait for the outcomes of their cases. The civil liberties group said the transfers would violate the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, which gives immigrants the reasonable opportunity to present evidence on their own behalf. Under the law, immigrants also have the right to communicate effectively with their legal representation, which the ACLU said would be nearly impossible if the transfers happen.
“ICE’s decision to transfer immigrants thousands of miles away from their lawyers and families violates the Constitution and ICE’s own policies,” ACLU attorney Sameer Ahmed said in a statement. “While we applaud Orange County for ending its dealings with ICE, we call on ICE to release these vulnerable immigrants so they can get a fair day in court with the support they desperately need.”
The lawsuit asks the court to prevent immigrants from being transferred out of Southern California if they already have attorneys or immediate family in the area, and to release them on parole or bond. Individuals who cannot be released should be transferred to another facility in Southern California, according to the ACLU.
“The best solution would be to release the majority of these individuals back to their families, who are in the best position to ensure that they are able to attend their hearings, obtain the necessary evidence for their cases, and have a fair day in court,” said Monica Glicken, an attorney with Public Law Center, which provides free legal services to immigrants and one of two legal organizations the ACLU is filing the lawsuit on behalf of.
ICE told HuffPost on Thursday that it does not comment on pending litigation. The agency has not said when the transfers are set to happen or where the detainees would be sent.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said he ended the county’s contract with ICE to make room for more inmates with mental illnesses, and not for any other political reason. Echoing her comments to the LA Times in March, ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley told HuffPost on Thursday that ICE would have to “depend on its national system of detention bed space to place those detainees in locations farther away reducing the opportunities for in-person family visitation and attorney coordination.”