Immigration attorneys told a federal judge at a hearing Monday that visiting immigrant detainees at a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon, is still a challenge.
The hearing came one week after U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon granted a temporary restraining order. It allows attorneys access after they had previously been denied entry to meet with more than 120 male detainees.
Nadia Dahab, an attorney with Stoll Berne, a Portland-based firm representing the plaintiffs alongside the ACLU of Oregon, said immigration attorneys and advocates aren’t able to get the six-hours of daily access they should. Instead, that time is eaten up just trying to get into the prison.
“Access is really hard,” Dahab said. “We’re seeing a lot of delays clearing security, going through background checks. The delay for our lawyers arriving at the prison until they actually meet with an individual is not insignificant.”
She also raised concerns about whether detainees have been able to access a working phone line, or whether staff gave instructions to individuals in their native language.
After learning that the plaintiffs were still struggling to meet with detainees, Judge Simon decided not to lift the temporary restraining order. The 28-day order is set to expire July 23.
After Monday’s hearing, immigration attorneys said they are pleased that Simon left the TRO in place, and that it will allow them to continue meeting with detainees and offering free legal counsel.
“We are trying very hard to make sure these individuals get some level of constitutional due process before the government attempts to deport them,” said ACLU of Oregon attorney Leland Baxter-Neal.
The majority of immigrants being detained at Sheridan are asylum seekers, many from South Asian countries. Erin Pettigrew, an attorney with the Innovation Law Lab in Portland, said holding asylum seekers in a federal prison is unusual.
“The overwhelming feeling is one of despair and confusion,” Pettigrew said. “The principle question that people are asking is, 'how long is this going to take, how long am I going to be held in a prison when I have committed no crime?' And we, unfortunately, as their advocates and lawyers, do not have clear answers to that at this time.”
The U.S. government recently filed a motion to dissolve the court’s restraining order. Simon said he plans to rule on that by the end of July.