Nadler, Lofgren, Klobuchar, and Durbin Lead Colleagues to Urge Administration to Ensure Access to Free Telephone Calls for Detainees at ICE Detention Centers

May 19, 2020
Press Release
Bicameral letter also calls on Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to guarantee that communications with attorneys are confidential and unsupervised by detention center staff

WASHINGTON, DC – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, and U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) led 27 senators and 52 representatives in sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) urging the Administration to ensure that all ICE detention centers quickly implement the agency’s recent commitment to provide 520 free phone call minutes per month for detainees during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The letter also calls on DHS to guarantee that any telephonic or remote communication with attorneys are confidential and unsupervised by detention center staff. 

The letter follows Klobuchar and Durbin’s calls on the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to waive phone charges for incarcerated people during the pandemic. After their request, BOP announced that these charges would be waived. 

“Crowded, unsanitary conditions in ICE detention put nearly 30,000 detainees, and detention center staff, at especially high risk of COVID-19 infection. According to ICE, there have been 1,073 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those in ICE custody at 49 locations across the country. Forty-four ICE employees at detention centers have also tested positive for the virus. In order to help prevent further spread of the virus, ICE has suspended social and legal visits,” the lawmakers wrote.

“The vast majority of those in ICE detention facilities—more than four out of every five—do not have legal representation in their removal cases, which continue to proceed during the pandemic. In order to effectively prepare for their immigration court cases, these detainees must communicate with people outside detention who have access to relevant evidence. For those who do have representation in their removal cases, access to meaningful and confidential phone communication with counsel is essential.”

The letter is endorsed by National Immigrant Justice Center, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Human Rights First, National Immigration Law Center, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, United We Dream, and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

In addition to Klobuchar and Durbin, the letter was signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kysten Sinema (D-AZ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Mark Warner (D-VA).  

In addition to Nadler and Lofgren, the letter was signed by Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-CA), Karen Bass (D-CA), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Salud O. Carbajal (D-CA), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), Lou Correa (D-CA), Jason Crow (D-CO), Susan A. Davis (D-CA), Val B. Demings (D-FL), Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Bill Foster (D-IL), Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL), Sylvia R. Garcia (D-TX), Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. (D-GA), Joseph P. Kennedy, III (D-MA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Linda T. Sanchez (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Adam Smith (D-WA), Darren Soto (D-FL), Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Juan Vargas (D-CA), Filemon Vela (D-TX), Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), and Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL). 

Earlier this month, Klobuchar wrote a letter to Attorney General William Barr urging the Administration to address the rapid outbreak of COVID-19 at state prisons and jails.

In April, Klobuchar and Durbin (D-IL) led a group of 14 colleagues in a letter to Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Michael Carvajal urging him to release system-wide demographic data in the BOP’s public reporting of the number of incarcerated people and staff impacted by COVID-19. Preliminary data collected from the general public has shown that the COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting certain populations, including racial and ethnic minorities.

Earlier in April, Klobuchar and Durbin announced that following their request, the BOP modified operations to waive phone charges for incarcerated people during the pandemic and has taken steps to ensure that communications with attorneys will remain confidential. In a letter dated April 10, the senators received a response from BOP Director Michael Carvajal that states in part, “Effective April 9, 2020, telephone calls were made free for the inmate population. Video-visiting, which is available to our female population, was also made free on that same date.”

The senators also wrote a letter urging the Administration to use new authority provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help incarcerated people stay in contact with families and loved ones during the pandemic.

The April letter followed a previous request from the senators on March 20. In-person visits at federal prisons have been suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, and prior to the BOP’s action, calls could cost up to 25 cents per minute in addition to fees charged for each call.

Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Albence:

We write to urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take immediate action to ensure that all Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers, including the facilities that contract with ICE, quickly implement the agency’s recent commitment to provide 520 free phone call minutes per month for detainees during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. DHS should also guarantee that any telephonic or remote communication with attorneys remains confidential and unsupervised by detention center staff.

Crowded, unsanitary conditions in ICE detention put nearly 30,000 detainees, and detention center staff, at especially high risk of COVID-19 infection. According to ICE, there have been 1,073 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among those in ICE custody at 49 locations across the country. Forty-four ICE employees at detention centers have also tested positive for the virus. In order to help prevent further spread of the virus, ICE has suspended social and legal visits.

The vast majority of those in ICE detention facilities—more than four out of every five—do not have legal representation in their removal cases, which continue to proceed during the pandemic. In order to effectively prepare for their immigration court cases, these detainees must communicate with people outside detention who have access to relevant evidence. For those who do have representation in their removal cases, access to meaningful and confidential phone communication with counsel is essential.

We appreciate that ICE has committed to providing 520 free minutes per month for each person in detention, which ICE officials communicated to Congressional staff on May 4, 2020. However, legal service providers have reported uneven implementation of the policy. According to information received by Congress, many facilities have not provided any free minutes, some have provided fewer than 520 minutes, and others have provided detainees with 13 free, ten-minute calls per week—but prohibit detainees from carrying over unused minutes. Legal service providers also report incidents in which their clients do not have access to free calls to counsel on non-recorded lines.

Accordingly, we respectfully request that DHS and ICE take immediate action to ensure that all ICE facilities, including facilities that contract with ICE, quickly implement the free phone minutes policy and ensure access to unsupervised communication with attorneys. We also respectfully request responses to the following questions by May 29, 2020:

  1. Please list each detention facility that currently provides all detainees with access to 520 free phone call minutes each month.  As used throughout, the term “detention facility” includes ICE detention centers and facilities otherwise used by ICE to detain individuals, including contract facilities and Inter-Governmental Service Agreement (IGSA) facilities.
  2. When will all detention facilities provide detainees with access to free phone minutes? To the greatest extent practicable, please provide a specific date on which access will be guaranteed for each detention facility.
  3. Please provide any memoranda or guidance detailing the free phone minutes policy.  Please clarify whether this policy will be implemented uniformly across all detention facilities, or whether the agency is allowing modification of the policy (including modification of phone minute allowances) at certain facilities.
  4. How will ICE ensure that all detention facilities have implemented this policy?  Please provide any relevant guidance and communication provided to detention facility staff and operators, including guidance detailing how ICE intends to ensure compliance.
  5. Please explain how detainees access their free minutes. If detainees’ methods of accessing free minutes varies across types of detention facilities, please explain how these methods differ.
  6. What steps is ICE taking to ensure that all detainees are informed of the availability of free phone minutes, including by providing information in a language they understand? Please provide copies of any notice given to detainees or detention facility staff with regards to accessing free phone call minutes.
  7. Will ICE ensure that unused minutes are never forfeited, track how many free minutes are used by each person in detention, and evaluate whether additional minutes are needed?
  8. Please list each detention facility that currently provides all detainees with access to un-recorded phone lines for legal calls.
  9. When will all detention facilities guarantee access to un-recorded phone lines for legal calls and adopt other measures to ensure that detainees can communicate confidentially with counsel? 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your prompt response.

Sincerely, 

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