Judge's decision allows Sheridan detainees access to lawyers
U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon ruled Monday in favor of Innovation Law Lab's request to get immigrant detainees legal access.
The American Civil Liberties Foundation of Oregon joined the Law Lab effort Friday, June 22, to sue the Department of Homeland Security, seeking a temporary restraining order that would block federal rules preventing the lab's attorneys from visiting immigration detainees being held at the Federal Detention Center in Sheridan, about an hour south of Portland on Highway 18. The lawsuit asked the court to force the department to allow attorneys to visit or communicate with the 124 civil immigration detainees at the prison.
In his decison granting the restraining order, Simon wrote that his ruling reinforced the nation's "rule of law."
"The right to counsel, which allows a person to receive timely legal advice, is firmly entrenched in the concept of due process and protected by the Fifth Amendment against governmental interference," Simon wrote in his 22-page ruling that was issued Monday, June 25, after a hearing. "Further, this right is available to everyone in the United States, not just citizens or others who are here lawfully.
"The only relief sought is to enjoin the government from continuing to interfere with a civil immigrant detainee's right to counsel when there are volunteer attorneys, expert in immigration matters, ready, willing, and able to provide legal assistance without charge. For the reasons that follow, the court grants the requested relief."
Federal attorneys argued that the restraining order wasn't needed because the Sheridan dentention center was working toward allowing access to attorneys.
Innovation Law Lab, a Portland nonprofit group working on legal rights for immigrants and refugees, brought the lawsuit on behalf of Luis Javier Sanchez Gonzalez, who is being held under federal immigration laws at the Sheridan detention center prison and has been denied access to his attorney.
The Law Lab has done similar pro bono work with immigrants and refugees at a former detention center in New Mexico, at a South Texas Family Residential Center and in Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina and Oregon
According to federal attorneys, about 124 immigrants detained through the Trump administration's "no tolerance" policy were transferred to the Oregon detention center in late May. Sanchez Gonzalez was among the men being held in different wings of the facility.
Matt dos Santos, legal director with the ACLU of Oregon, said incarcerating immigrants in a federal prison was highly unusual and atypical for the state. "Denying these men council at a time when they need it most is as outrageous as it is unconstitutional," Santos said. "For an asylum seeker, this could mean the difference between life and death."
On Friday, Santos said lawyers with the ACLU and Innovation Law Lab worried "credible fear" screenings would take place before pro bono lawyers could meet with detainees. He said they wanted to hasten the case because "failure to succeed in those interviews could mean deportation in a matter of days."
The judge ruled that officials cannot proceed with any asylum interview or hearing, including any "credible fear" screening for the detainees, until they have been given adequate legal counsel. Before a screening can take place, the detainee must have had the opportunity to attend a "Know Your Rights" training session conducted by the Law Lab and consult with their attorney, according to the decision.
"After Defendants have been informed that a particular attorney or Law Lab represents a specific detainee, Defendants shall provide timely advance written notice to that attorney or Law Lab, as appropriate, of any scheduled "credible fear" interview or screening or any other asylum interview at FDC Sheridan for that detainee," Simon wrote.
Officials will not be able to transfer detainees outside Oregon without first being given the consent of their legal counsel, according to the decision. Attorneys will also be granted two visitation rooms for a minimum of six hours a day, seven days a week at the Sheridan prison.
For most of June, Santos said attorneys were turned away from meeting with detainees. He said there were numerous instances in which the lawyers were given a visitation time with their client and turned away just minutes before the meeting.
ICE protests continue
This decision comes just after Portland's ICE detention center closed its doors Wednesday, June 20, citing safety concerns while protesters continue to camp out. The group at Macadam Avenue and Bancroft Street is protesting the national occurences of families being separated and detainees not being granted their constitutional rights while in federal prisons.
Meanwhile, Federal Protective Services on Monday ordered all protesters surrounding a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Southwest Portland to leave government property and stop obstructing access to the facility. Protesters say they will stay at the site until ICE is abolished and changes are made to the Trump administration's policies on detaining immigrants.