On April 11, 2020, Sidley obtained a major pro bono temporary restraining order (TRO) victory on behalf of detainees at the Adelanto Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in the Central District of California. U.S. District Judge Bernal ruled that ICE must revise attorney-client communication restrictions implemented as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to allow detainees their rightful access to free, private calls with attorneys.
In December 2019, Sidley (working alongside the American Civil Liberties Union and the Stanford Immigration Rights Clinic) had initiated a class action lawsuit on behalf of three then-detained (now formerly detained) individuals and two organizations for immigration attorneys, against various federal defendants and GEO, a government contractor who operates the Adelanto ICE detention facility. The lawsuit asserts that the defendants’ policies and procedures effectively deprive immigration detainees of their right to seek legal representation and/or communicate with legal counsel and deprive immigration attorneys of their First Amendment right to communicate with their clients.
The case was further complicated (and the rights of our clients further constrained) by the COVID-19 pandemic, in response to which the defendants tightened restrictions on in-person visitation at Adelanto. Inadvertently or otherwise, the new COVID-19 restrictions effectively eliminated the only remaining reliable avenue for free attorney-client communications. While recognizing the need for reasonable safety precautions at detention facilities in light of the ongoing public health crisis, we disputed the defendants’ decision to implement such precautions without providing adequate alternatives to protect the ability of detainees and their counsel to effectively communicate, particularly in light of the government’s decision to continue to proceed with substantive immigration hearings during the pandemic.
Sidley therefore brought a TRO asking the court to order a host of facility-wide relief, including making telephone calls free, requiring the cessation of the defendants’ practice of recording telephone calls, requiring that the “positive acceptance” requirement be removed (that requirement terminates calls as soon as a voicemail or phone tree picks up), and requiring that all of the aforementioned practices be advertised so detainees and attorneys were aware of them. On April 11, 2020, Judge Bernal ordered virtually all of the relief sought in the TRO, marking a significant victory both for detainees at the Adelanto facility and for the immigration bar and pro bono organizations that represent them.
The core Sidley team included Sean A. Commons and Christopher M. Griffin in the firm’s Los Angeles office, and T. Robert Scarborough, Christopher M. Assise and Olivia E. Sullivan in the Chicago office.