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Escobar, Torres Small Demand DHS and ICE Answers About Detainees Telephone Accessibility

El Paso, TX, June 8, 2020

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16) and Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding answers about the significant barriers to phone access experienced by individuals in ICE custody at the El Paso Service Processing Center in El Paso, Texas and the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral, New Mexico.  

The letter, which was sent to DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence, calls for ICE to expeditiously provide a detailed plan that will fully protect the right of detained individuals to speak to their attorneys. According to the lawmakers, this plan must ensure that phone access for legal representation is free, confidential, and comprehensive, both during and after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Individuals held in ICE custody need meaningful access to working telephones to prepare their legal case with an attorney. Denial of this essential resource puts people in ICE custody at a severe disadvantage and is a violation of due process,” the lawmakers wrote.”

They continued, “The COVID-19 pandemic has undeniably increased the need for phone access in ICE detention centers, as many immigrant attorneys cannot visit their clients in detention, do not feel safe doing so, or do not have access to the personal protective equipment required by ICE. Detained individuals report phone access that is further limited during quarantines and lockdowns, even though they are forced to proceed with their cases in immigration court. The COVID-19 pandemic makes the need for a comprehensive solution more acute.” 

On May 4, 2020, ICE officials informed Congressional staff that every person in detention would receive 520 free minutes of phone calls throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the provision of these free minutes has reportedly been inconsistent across ICE facilities.

Congresswoman Escobar and Congresswoman Torres Small ended the letter requesting responses to their questions and concerns by June 19, 2020. The full text of the letter can be found here.

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