ACLU Files First Lawsuit Against Biden Admin Over Transportation of Migrants by ICE

The first-ever lawsuit against President Joe Biden's administration by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was filed Wednesday over long-distance transportation of detained migrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The lawsuit was issued on behalf of ICE detainees facing transfer to facilities across the U.S. from the Essex County Correctional Facility (ECCF) in Newark, New Jersey, amid its closing, according to the ACLU. It was filed alongside ACLU-NJ and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

"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 D. Romero in a statement.

Today’s suit, filed alongside @aclunj and @nipnlg, is a challenge to a decision made by the Biden administration — it’s not a Trump hold-over.

We will sue any administration when they take positions that violate civil liberties and civil rights.

— ACLU (@ACLU) June 30, 2021

When a facility closes, ICE often transfers detained immigrants to facilities in the Deep South including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, according to the ACLU.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Newark. According to the complaint, transferring detainees "to distant locations that are inaccessible to counsel violates federal constitutional and statutory law."

The complaint cited violations of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution that "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," and violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The ACLU has previously sued former President Donald Trump's administration over 400 times, according to Romero.

The detainment of migrants at the ECCF will end by August 23 following Essex County's recent move to end detention at the facility, the complaint said. This week, the facility held around 100 migrants.

The complaint mentioned ICE has begun transferring ECCF detainees "as far away as Georgia and Nevada."

"We're not talking about an hour, a couple hours drive," Carmen Iguina Gonzalez, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, told Newsweek.

Iguina Gonzalez, who leads the lawsuit's filing, said the transfers could be as far as a plane ride away from their attorneys and families.

"These are members of the New Jersey community," she said. "The separation is not only a separation from their counsel, but also separation from the family, and from the community that supports them."

In regards to the Biden administration's response to the lawsuit, Iguina Gonzalez said the ACLU hopes that alternatives to detention and the over-reliance on the detention system would be considered.

"It's a problem and is something that the administration should be taking a hard look at," she said.

"The issue is that when people have retained counsel to represent and they are transported away, counsel often can't continue to represent their clients," Joseph Meyers, an attorney and legal fellow for the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, told Newsweek.

He said attorneys cannot continue to effectively gather evidence and "do all the things that make an attorney-client relationship meaningful and allow people who are facing deportation removal from their families to have a fair hearing."

Another issue Meyers mentioned is some of the facilities in the Deep South tend to have poor communication infrastructure in regards to phone calls and that detainees often do not have privacy to speak with their attorneys.

"That's a problem because people are often dealing with cases such as asylum cases that involve incredibly sensitive, personal information," he said.

Iguina Gonzalez said no matter which administration is in charge, the ACLU's focus is on "protecting immigrant communities' civil rights and civil liberties."

"These transfers have violated that and that's what we're in court to fight about," she said.

Romero said this may be one of the first lawsuits filed by the ACLU against the Biden administration and he is guessing "it won't be the last."

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden's administration was issued its first lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union over long-distance transportation of migrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In this photo, Biden speaks during an event with governors of western states and members of his cabinet June 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images

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