Washington D.C. – Access to legal counsel is a core American value and is the cornerstone of our justice system. Yet, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has severely limited access to legal assistance for asylum-seeking women and children held in family detention facilities. Last night, the Dilley Pro Bono Project (DPBP), a consortium of the American Immigration Council, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA), filed suit to challenge a new ICE policy that arbitrarily restricts the types of legal services that DPBP may provide and interferes with the ability of DPBP staff to effectively represent their clients.
The case stems from ICE’s decision to bar a full-time DPBP legal assistant, Caroline Perris, from entering the detention facility in Dilley, Texas. ICE claimed that Ms. Perris had inappropriately facilitated a telephonic mental health evaluation of a DPBP client. She had, in fact, facilitated this evaluation to avert the imminent deportation of a client and her child, and the evaluation proved critical to establish their eligibility for protection in the United States.
In response to DPBP’s repeated requests that ICE reinstate Ms. Perris’ access, ICE stated that a telephonic medical evaluation requires pre-approval. This policy places DPBP legal staff in the untenable position of having to choose between potentially compromising the needs of their clients, whose cases move quickly, or putting themselves at risk of losing their access to the facility by providing the legal services they consider to be in their clients’ best interests.
The plaintiffs, DPBP, Ms. Perris, and DPBP’s Managing Attorney Shalyn Fluharty, seek a preliminary injunction reinstating Ms. Perris’ access to the Dilley detention facility and prohibiting ICE from enforcing its written policy requiring pre-approval for telephonic mental health evaluations, pending a final decision in this case.
The Dilley Pro Bono Project plays an indispensable role in ensuring that mothers and children detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, are adequately prepared for their immigration proceedings. The overwhelming majority of clients served by DPBP have experienced severe forms of trauma, including child abuse, rape, incest, and domestic violence. Mental health evaluations often provide crucial evidence for clients facing immediate deportation by establishing that the trauma they suffered hinders their ability to recount the circumstances that led them to flee their home countries.
The case includes claims under the First Amendment and the Administrative Procedure Act. The plaintiffs are represented by the American Immigration Council, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.
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