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Legal advocates are suing ICE over access issues for clients in detention

Legal aid groups have filed suit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, over alleged violations of their clients rights behind bars.

The attorneys who filed suit are working with clients detained in ICE facilities in four states, including Arizona.

They argue these facilities make it hard to access their clients and get their cases organized.

Alex Miller is the director of the American Immigration Council's Immigration Justice Campaign, which offers pro bono legal services to immigrants and is a plaintiff in the suit. Miller says attorneys don't have reliable access to confidential, virtual consultations with clients.

"Having extraordinary difficulty reaching clients by phone, having to rely on paid lines to call up and set up times to talk to their attorneys, often restricting access to translation," she said. "And knowing that the timeline for some of these cases is really fast, if you can't get reliable access to council quickly, your attorneys can't represent you confidently."

The suit argues those restrictions are "in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the First Amendment, and federal law," and are also not aligned with ICE’s own detention policies. 

Immigration detainees don’t have a constitutional right to free counsel like U.S. citizens. But they do have the right to seek counsel. Miller says pro-bono attorneys are available to help, but can’t help clients without access to them. 

An ICE spokesperson said the agency would not comment on pending litigation. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story has been updated to correct the name of the American Immigration Council's Immigration Justice Campaign.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.