ACLU Sues Trump Administration Over Access To ICE Detainees In Oregon

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Portland, Oregon June 22, 2018 5:10 p.m.

UPDATE (June 22, 12:52 p.m. PT) — The ACLU of Oregon sued the Trump administration on Friday, arguing that attorneys have not been able to meet with 121 immigration detainees housed at the federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon.


The lawsuit claims two federal agencies — Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Prisons — are violating the U.S. Constitution by depriving the prisoners their due process rights. The men are being housed three to a cell and are confined in them for up to 23 hours per day, according to the Oregon Federal Public Defenders office, one of the few legal teams that has been granted access to the detainees.

The suit was filed on behalf on immigration attorneys and one of the detainees at the Sheridan prison.

"The emergency lawsuit asks that officials be forced to drop all actions that prevent attorneys from visiting or communicating with the immigration detainees at Sheridan prison as required by the U.S. Constitution," ACLU of Oregon legal director Mat dos Santos said during a news conference in Portland.

Related: Oregon Politicians At All Levels Call For Immigrant Families To Be Reunited


The 121 detainees came to the federal prison in Sheridan earlier this month as part of the administration's "zero tolerance" approach to immigration. Some 1,600 ICE detainees stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border have been sent to federal prisons in five states, including more than 200 at the SeaTac federal detention center in Seattle and some 800 at a federal prison in Victorville, California.

Immigration attorneys in Washington have been granted access to detainees. Lawyers in California have not, though on Thursday a federal judge approved a temporary restraining order reversing that.

Attorneys in Oregon have also requested a temporary restraining order asking a judge to grant attorney access to the ICE detainees in Sheridan. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon will hear arguments Monday at 8 a.m. in Portland.

The ACLU of Oregon contends federal officials have prevented the detainees from even calling lawyers.

"Denying these men access to counsel at a time they need it most to prepare for interviews with immigration officials or appearing before an immigration judge is as outrageous as it is unconstitutional," dos Santos said. "For an asylum seeker this could mean the difference between life and death."

The men in Sheridan are largely, if not entirely, asylum seekers who did not arrive at the border planning to enter the country without approval. Some were charged with illegal entry as part of the administration's new tougher immigration policy. Some have been separated from their children.

"It's almost been two weeks now. Pro bono attorneys have made multiple visits to the institution in Sheridan to provide legal counsel, however we're turned away every single time," said Victoria Bejarano Muirhead, development director for the Portland-based Innovation Law Lab, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

The suit claims that one of the plaintiffs in the case who is detained at Sheridan was separated at a port of entry while trying to claim asylum. The couple was traveling with their 1- and 5-year-old children.

This story will be updated.