Thursday, March 26, 2009

ICE Detention Centers Unlawfully Close Immigration Courts to General Public

Greetings from Florence, Arizona. This morning I was unlawfully denied access to the immigration courts at the Eloy Detention Center run by the privately-owned CCA and the Florence Detention Center, run by DHS.

Last year when I attempted to gain access to the proceedings for a US citizen ICE was trying to deport (Rene Saldivar) at the Eloy Detention Center (about 30 minutes southwest of here), I was refused on the grounds that only family members and attorneys were allowed in. At the time, I was not aware of the rules governing immigration courts.

A federal prosecutor in San Diego last fall informed me that immigration courts are supposed to be open to the public, and sure enough, 8 CFR § 1003.27 states:



1003.27 - Public access to hearings.

All hearings, other than exclusion hearings, shall be open to the public except that: (a) Depending upon physical facilities, the Immigration Judge may place reasonable limitations upon the number in attendance at any one time with priority being given to the press over the general public; (b) For the purpose of protecting witnesses, parties, or the public interest, the Immigration Judge may limit attendance or hold a closed hearing.

(c) In any proceeding before an Immigration Judge concerning an abused alien spouse, the hearing and the Record of Proceeding shall be closed to the public unless the abused spouse agrees that the hearing and the Record of Proceeding shall be open to the public. In any proceeding before an Immigration Judge concerning an abused alien child, the hearing and the Record of Proceeding shall be closed to the public.

(d) Proceedings before an Immigration Judge shall be closed to the public if information subject to a protective order under 1003.46, which has been filed under seal pursuant to 1003.31(d), may be considered.

[52 FR 2936, Jan. 29, 1987. Redesignated and amended at 57 FR 11571, 11572, Apr. 6, 1992; 62 FR 10334, Mar. 6, 1997; 67 FR 36802, May 28, 2002]
I arrived at the Eloy Detention Center this morning to attend the 8:30 a.m. hearings. The guard asked me if I was an attorney or a family member. I said I was a member of the general public and it was my understanding that unless a judge or detainee had specifically requested a closed hearing, the immigration courts were open to the general public. An attorney waiting to go in specifically invited me to a hearing for a client he was about to represent in the courtroom of Judge Phelps.

The guard called his supervisor and a man identifying himself as Captain Adams came out. He told me that I needed to be ""preapproved." I asked if he was aware that immigration courts are supposed to be open to the general public. First he said yes, and then he said no and left to get his supervisor.

The Director of Security Carey told me I needed prior approval from ICE before I could enter the detention facility. I asked him how I should obtain this, who in ICE should I contact? He said I could contact "anyone." I asked what I needed to submit to them. He said I needed to give them my social security number, my date of birth, and my address.

The guard at the desk gave me the phone number for the ICE agents running Eloy and said maybe I could have a phone screening and come the next day. As cell phones are not allowed in the Center I returned to the parking lot, called the ICE number for Eloy and spoke with Mark, an ICE supervisor. He told me that everyone entering the facility needs a background check and that can take two weeks: "The problem is that anyone with a felony or misdemeanor conviction in the last five years can be prohibited to come in for security reasons."

I told him it was my understanding that unless a judge had closed the proceedings, the law said that immigration courts were open to the general public. He repeated the security policy for the facility and added that even contractors entering needed these checks. I told him that under the law contractors do not have a right to perform work at a detention center, but the law says that the general public should be allowed access to immigration court proceedings.

I then drove back to Florence to try my luck at the detention center run by DHS. The guard seemed to think it wouldn't be a problem and said I needed to wait for an escort. After about 15 minutes he said his supervisor called and that it would not be possible for me to enter. He gave me the number for the Florence ICE agents and the agent there told me something slightly different from the agent at Eloy, that I needed prior approval from the agent in charge of the facility. He connected me to this person and I got the voice mail for what sounded like a Janet Ellison. I left a message. She has not returned my call.

After making the call, I asked the Florence guard if he was aware that immigration courts were supposed to be open to the general public. He was affable and said "Yes, I know. I thought it was going to go good but then they called a supervisor and they said, 'no, we're not letting her in.'"

An EOIR spokesperson informs me that when reporters try to gain access to hearings in ICE detention centers and are rebuffed, EOIR tells them that EOIR only controls their buildings and that reporters must coordinate arrangements with ICE if the hearings are in ICE facilities. I suggested that this was not legal and that the EOIR either needed to pull their hearings from the ICE centers or instruct ICE on the law regarding the public's access to immigration proceedings.

Immigration court for detainees, the most legally fragile population in the country, already resembles a kangaroo court. They are the main victims. Justice does not flourish in secret court hearings. But US citizens also have a stake in seeing how immigration law enforcement is being implemented in their name. Open courts are a crucial part of a functioning democracy. Before DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder throw legal residents out of the country for crimes and misdemeanors, they need to follow the law themselves.


Anonymous said...

26 Federal Plaza in New York -- an EOIR-controlled facility -- will not admit anyone to immigration court without a hearing notice or an attorney ID. So EOIR does not, in fact,. admit the general public to one of its busiest courts.

Sergi said...

it looked like the law you cited said exclusion proceedings were excepted, which I think is what a deportation is. Removal is part of an exclusion proceeding. Perhaps this is the snag?

Anonymous said...

"Exclusion" refers only to proceedings started before 1997 for non-citizens at points of entry. After 1997, "deportation" and "exclusion" were combined into "removal." So I think the "exclusion" exception in the regulations is really narrow and doesn't explain this lack of transparency.

Anonymous said...

I am an immigration attorney and recently litigated a case in Eloy, AZ. On one occasion I was prevented from entering the facility the day before the hearing to meet with my client, despite being the attorney of record, because my faxed letter to the CCA guards requesting permission to enter was supposedly not received. On the second court date, I was again denied access to my client because CCA was conducting some kind of drill and the place was locked down. It is very alarming how the procedural whims of a private company are routinely allowed to obstruct attorney access to immigrations and deny those immigrants due process.

Anonymous said...

I am the attorney the writer met in the lobby. I did in fact have an 8.30 with Phelps.

I have case in Florence and Eloy and must visit other facilities in the area. Eloy isn't as efficient as CDAC or PCJ - its the attitude of the lobby staff that is below par. One or two are very good, but there are some who definately adopt a "bouncer" syndrome - not sure if that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

The general public shold not be granted free and unfettered access to a corrections institution, private or otherwise, due to safety and security concerns. Perhaps EOIR should move the courtrooms outside of the facilities, but then that would lead to additional expenses for transportation and guard services while the detainees are offsite.....all to paid for by taxpayers. Seems to me it makes sense to have the court in the institution and if you want or need to be present for a hearing, simply follow the established protocols. Your blog seems to indicate that you just showed up and expected to be granted access to a secure detention facility.

Sabrina said...

Tax payers money would much more wisely be used to have courts that are easily accessible to the public.... then they could be aware of what's going on. Already the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is a private corporation that OUTBIDS the US prisons, and makes MONEY on their HUMAN COMMODITIES. So what's the difference to add a few dollars for some actual democracy. WE tax payers don't need this, we just passively allow this kind of thing to take place, or more likely, people just don't even know about this part of our government. I mean how would you know unless you know or are somehow involved intimately with an immigrant. It's extremely unjust, and is WHY the immigration system is BROKEN in this country. It's NOT about immigrants sneaking over the border but about CORPORATE GREED that does not care about breaking up families, such as my own. My husband of 22 years, who has been unable to become legal in this country due to a former marriage mistake in which they call marriage fraud and is consider as bad as a terrorist drug smuggler from Cuba, is now housed in this human commodity house right there is ELOY, and set for deportation. We are shocked and ashamed of our country. I am an American citizen, as are our two children aged 22 and 17. Part of our 21 years of marriage was spent in 15 years waiting for an Amnesty Application to be processed, in which it was denied! There is no respect or appreciation for people trying to immigrate here who pay taxes, start businesses, run non profits, are leaders in their communities; they just look at the "law" which was made obviously in dinosaur days. Since when has the average American taken marriage so seriously as to consider fraud like this. I mean look at the divorce rate! We've been together 22 years! And they are forcing us to depart. Forcing me to maybe have to move to another country with my kids if we want to stay together. And after reading this blog, it is not a happy feeling to see how difficult it may be for me or even my lawyer, god forbid, to help my husband out. This stuff needs to be majorly publicized. I see that the moderator will be approving this message. I hope yo will let it run so that people can hear what's going on. If you don't post this,it will be as bad as the CCA not letting the general public into the courtroom. If you do, you've got heart, and thank you for your support.

Anonymous said...

Now why is it that you're only allowing comments that are favorable to your position? Doesn't exactly seem fair to shut out the other side, and yet, you make bald statements that show you clearly aren't in the know. Please educate yourself on the law, and the facts.

Anonymous said...

idle dave-on the 25th of june i tried to visit my wife at the eloy detention center one hour before processing to enter the waiting area. I removed all prohibited items and was allowed to pass. i waited for one hour and asked why it was taking so long,that people were coming and going and i was still waiting?i waited another half hour and again asked what was the hold,again This time i was told that sometimes the inmates were asleep,watching tv,eating!!!but did he bother to check, no or he would have known that for some reason she had been returned back to her dorm.needless to say i left after one and a half hour. and as for (through thees doors pass------)this person should pass but out the other door !!!!!!! thank you rico,and meza.
oh and this found because one of her friends called me.

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