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Orantes-Hernandez v. Gonzales: Injunction Upheld

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Injunction Upheld: Judge Finds Widespread Abuses in Immigrant Detention

Troubling Evidence That Asylum Seekers' Rights Are Not Respected

News Release

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Contact:

Celeste Durant or Michael Soller (ACLU/SC) (213) 977-5252

News Release in Spanish

LOS ANGELES -- In a nationwide review of legal rights for immigrants in federal detention, a federal judge has found serious violations of the government's own standards relating to detention conditions.

U.S. District Court Judge Margaret M. Morrow examined never-before-released reports regarding conditions at more than 200 immigration detention facilities and found widespread problems, including lack of access to telephones, attorneys, and legal materials, faced by thousands of immigrants seeking asylum or pursuing legitimate claims to legal residency. The court reviewed thousands of pages of government reports assessing conditions at facilities nationwide, as well as similar reports by a United Nations office and the American Bar Association. These reports showed that detained immigrants from all nations faced similar problems.

"The government's treatment of immigrants betrays its promise of fairness and due process," said Linton Joaquin of the National Immigration Law Center, who served as lead counsel in the case. "The government should not deprive immigrants in detention of basic due process rights, such as meeting with lawyers, reading law books, and making phone calls to family members."

The judge's findings came in a ruling, finalized on July 26, that upheld a nationwide injunction to protect Salvadoran immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S.  The National Immigration Law Center, ACLU of Southern California, and ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project had opposed the government's request to end the court-ordered injunction, which requires the government to treat people in immigration detention fairly.

Judge Morrow ruled that substantial evidence showed "a significant number of violations of critical provisions of the injunction dealing with detainees' access to legal materials, telephone use and attorney visits." The court also found that despite the end of the civil war in that country, immigrants from El Salvador continue to have legitimate asylum claims, and that they, like all immigrants, must be provided basic due process.

The ruling follows recent reports by the Dept. of Homeland Security inspector general and the Government Accountability Office showing similar problems in immigration detention.

"What's happening to immigrants in detention should disturb all of us," said ACLU/SC staff attorney Ranjana Natarajan. "People seeking America's protection from torture and persecution deserve a fair hearing and respect for their basic rights."

The legal team included Linton Joaquin and Karen Tumlin from NILC, Ranjana Natarajan and Mark Rosenbaum from the ACLU of Southern California, and Jennifer Chang, Lucas Guttentag, Judy Rabinovitz, and Monica Ramirez from the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project

Pro bono assistance was provided by the law firms of Holland & Knight and Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

(View a copy of the modified, consolidated Orantes injunction, issued Nov. 26, 2007, PDF.)

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Although NILC and co-counsel in the Orantes case obtained, through discovery,  tens of thousands of pages of never-before-released reports on detention conditions, some critical information in these reports was not released. For example, although the Orantes team obtained copies of many DHS annual facility reports for 2004 and 2005, information in these reports relating to 20 of the 38 National Detention Standards had been redacted as irrelevant to the litigation.  Among the redacted material is information regarding facility compliance with standards relating to medical care, use of force, religious practices, and food services.

In March 2007, NILC, along with the ACLU of Southern California and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain this redacted information as well as other crucial government documents relating to the detention conditions immigrants face.  To date, the government has failed to produce a single document in response to this request.  See a copy of the FOIA request (PDF).