Out of fear of what Donald Trump’s presidency will mean for those illegally living in the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union is currently fighting to get phone services more readily available to illegal immigrants who are locked up and fighting deportation cases.
“Our goal is to see a deduction in the amount of people we lock up, and better conditions and oversight for the centers they’re in,” said Candice Francis, communications director at the ACLU of Northern California. “We’re very concerned, based on the promises of Donald Trump as a candidate and what we’re hearing about what the plans are for his first hundred days to deport three million people, that there will be a rise in detention center populations and things like phone call prices.”
According to the International Business Times, there are at least 440,000 immigrants held annually in America’s detention centers, some of which are unable to afford a phone call home or a phone call to get legal counsel as they fight their cases.
Private prisons, county jails and immigrant detention centers rely on the prison telephone industry, a group of private companies similar to Verizon and T-Mobile but catering specifically to correctional facilities and detention centers. Those companies typically offer a profit to the facilities they operate in, allowing for detention centers to make money every time an immigrant calls pro-bono legal counsel, family members or other support networks while facing deportation hearings.
Immigrants and activists describe a slew of issues with placing phone calls in detention centers, from being unable to leave voicemails with legal offices and not having a way of receiving messages from the outside. One immigrant, a 60-year-old Army veteran who was eventually deported after being held 18 months in a detention center for a petty crime he already served time for, previously described being unable to pay for phone calls with family as calls cost nearly $2 per minute in an interview with International Business Times.
“Because of a lack of regulation, there’s no pressure for centers to make telephone calls affordable,” said Carl Takei, staff attorney with the civil rights group ACLU National Prison Project. “Immigrants are charged for everything: $3 just to have a phone call connect. 10 minute intrastate call can cost $5.50 cents. Short telephone calls can even increase the cost. The FCC attempted to regulate rising fees, putting caps on intrastate call prices, but those caps have been challenged each time.”
A recent case that the ACLU won in Northern California named Lyon v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, demanded that detention centers provide better access to phone calls, as well as information for free legal aid resources for immigrants.
IBT reported that The Lyons case settlement found that ICE is capable of supplying better phone services to immigrants.
Beginning in November, the department has one year to meet new requirements for telephone systems in Northern California detention centers, including at least 40 phone booths across four centers, extensions on the time allowed to speak with nonprofit organizations, federal offices and family, free and unmonitored phone calls to immigration attorneys and free calls for immigrants who have less than $16 in their personal accounts for a minimum 10 days.
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