Law Libraries in ICE Detention Centers

I’m in the middle of my summer internship with the Law Library of Congress. Among other duties, I’ve been working on compiling immigration law resources. I came across this article, and thought it had some interesting tidbits. From the Centre Daily Times (Pennsylvania):

Standards of care

ICE has created detention standards that state the basics of care needed at every facility housing detainees. Some of the standards include access to medical care, telephones, language translation services, and a law library.

According to Wadhia, access to a law library is important for non-citizens to prepare their cases, as they often have to navigate their cases alone.

“Eighty-four percent of all detained immigrants navigate the removal process without a lawyer,” Wadhia said. “It is a lot harder to get legal assistance and help when you are incarcerated.” In Pennsylvania, reports by Trac immigration have shown a history of an overwhelming majority of people who are detained proceed to immigration court without representation.

ICE Detainees

I took a look at the Access to Legal Material section of the ICE Detention Standards, and learned that most self-represented ICE detainees are on their own in the law library. I found no clear mandate requiring an actual law librarian on the premises. If the detainee needs assistance, the facilities are tasked with “establishing procedures to meet this obligation.” This language implies a large amount of variation in enforcement across the 200+ ICE detention facilities, an issue also exacerbated by two other sets of standards in addition to the one mentioned in the PA article above.

The above policy is part of the 2000 National Detention Standards. It explicitly encourages detainees to assist other “illiterate or non-English speaking” detainees, but places no official responsibility on ICE employees or affiliates to provide direct law library assistance. I, for one, would be proud to volunteer at an ICE detention center and provide law library assistance, but these facilities are notoriously secretive about their practices and who they allow inside.



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