ACLU files suit against Biden admin over transfer of ICE detainees from New Jersey

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the Biden administration over Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to transfer illegal immigrant detainees at a jail facility in New Jersey.

The lawsuit is the first to challenge the Biden administration’s immigration policy, The Hill reported Wednesday.

The liberal-leaning legal organization is attempting to prevent illegal migrants from being sent to locations around the country away from their relatives and lawyers in New Jersey as the state’s Democratic majority is nearing the passage of legislation that will bar state and local corrections institutions from detaining federal immigrant prisoners.

“True to form, we will sue any administration — Democrat or Republican — and hold them accountable when they take positions that violate civil liberties and civil rights,” said ACLU executive director Anthony Romero in a statement. “This may be one of the first lawsuits filed against the Biden administration by advocacy groups, but I’m guessing it won’t be the last.”

The class-action suit was filed in a federal district court in New Jersey and it states that some of the ICE detainees formerly incarcerated at the Essex County jail have already been sent to locations around the country including detention centers in Nevada and Georgia.

Joining the ACLU in the suit is the National Lawyers Guild’s National Immigration Project. The groups, who filed on behalf of the remaining ICE detainees at the Essex County facility, argued that transferring them over long distances “will disrupt their legal right to counsel for immigration proceedings,” The Hill reported.

“Transferring Plaintiff and the members of the class to distant locations that are inaccessible to counsel violates federal constitutional and statutory law,” says the lawsuit.

“The Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution does not permit the government to effectively sever the attorney-client relationship by transferring individuals hundreds or thousands of miles away from their attorneys while their cases remain pending,” the complaint adds.

In late April, the ACLU asked the Biden administration to shutter 29 ICE detention facilities over alleged abuses occurring with migrant detainees.

Those in ICE custody experience use of force, solitary confinement, forced sterilization, and sexual abuse, among other things, the organization claimed in a statement in which officials with the legal group said they want the agency to close detention facilities where previous reports of bad treatment have taken place, as well as facilities in remote locations.

“Our experience litigating cases concerning due process for detained immigrants and detention conditions particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic gives us insight into the factors and facilities that warrant your urgent attention,” ACLU Senior Advocacy and Policy Counsel Naureen Shah said in a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“Closing detention sites should be an easy decision. Millions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted to maintain thousands of empty beds and keep asylum seekers and immigrants in inhumane and life-threatening conditions,” Shah added.

ICE falls under the DHS.

At the time, there were some 15,000 migrant detainees in ICD custody, a figure that was at a 20-year low due to the former Trump administration’s immigration policies and because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People detained at Mesa Verde [a facility in California] allege that they are subjected to persistent retaliation for speaking up about harmful conditions, including raising concerns about the risk posed to them by COVID-19,” the ACLU said.

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Jon Dougherty

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