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.



Round-Up: What I’m Reading

How Do We Engage with Ideas that Make Us Uncomfortable from the RIPS Law Librarian Blog

Digital Divides and Justice Gaps from Ex Libris Juris, a blog publication for the Harris County Law Library

Legal Reference for Public Libraries from the Maryland State Law Library

2013 National Self-Help in Libraries Survey by the Self-Represented Litigation Network’s Library Working Group

Law Libraries Serving Self-Represented Litigants from the 2015 Trends, National Center for State Courts e-Collection

The Sustainable 21st Century Law Library: Vision, Deployment, and Assessment for Access to Justice by Richard Zorza


Lots of Good A2J Reads This Week! + Two Essay Contests for Library Students

On my reading list:

Legal Self Help Should Swipe Right on Google: Given that search engines are the primary way non-lawyers search for legal information, CALI exec John Mayer proposes Google create a special interface to display legal self-help search results. Google already does this when you search certain keywords – for instance, searching “measles” or any other health-related term will prompt Google to display a sidebar with basic definitions, iconic symbols, and a downloadable PDF among other functions.

These Future Attorneys are Skipping Law SchoolThis short and heartwarming video is spreading like wildfire on my social media timeline, and for good reason! A past Equal Justice Works (my former employer! love them) Fellow is fighting the racial and gender disparity in the legal profession by offering California-based four-year program that trains legal apprentices to pass the bar.

Two Improvements Our Courts Can Implement for Self-Represented Litigants: The Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner recently announced that the Supreme Court will include easy-to-understand summaries in future headnotes. Toronto attorney Heather Douglas offers two other ideas to make the law more accessible: staffed kiosks and multimedia summaries! I’m a fan of both, especially including more audiovisual elements for non-lawyers.

The Innovation Gap Part 1 and Part 2: Legal tech expert Robert Ambrogi wrote a couple of interesting takes on access to justice and legal technology for Above the Law. Part I in particular has a great overview of the justice gap issue in America, along with some great links to resources like a Boston Bar Association study that mirrors the nationwide legal aid crisis and the 2013 LSC report on the use of tech to expand access to justice. Ambrogi offers a few potential explanations for the widespread resistance to legal tech.

Also: I wanted to share two upcoming essay contests for library students.

  • The Progressive Librarians Guild is offering a $500 Braverman Award for the best essay “on some aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries, or librarianship,” and the
  • AALL’s Morris L. Cohen Student Essay Competition is open to grad students (including law school and library school) interested in “legal research, rare books, and historical bibliography”.

Attack of the Flu + Draft of Symposium Poster on Best Practices for Helping Self-Represented Litigants

January was a LONG month. I ended up missing my library school’s symposium due to a nasty flu, and I feel as if I’m just coming up for air.

My research still has a long way to go. Below is my symposium poster showing my findings – I call it a draft because my research is still in its infancy. The poster was created in a haze of anti-nausea medication and cough syrup, so I’m not incredibly proud of it. But I still wanted to share!

Symposium Poster Matthews

This is just the beginning of my research, which I will continue to update. I spoke with county law librarians only, so I want to speak to more academic law librarians and law firm librarians to see where they stand on helping self-represented litigants (or if they have any stance at all).

I would also like to take out the word “innovative,” which I have grown to hate. More on that in a later post!

Interesting Convo on Non-Law Student Use of Academic Law Libraries

Our Canadian lawbrarian friends at the University of Calgary Bennett Jones Law Library are currently in a (heated?) debate over SNAILS (“Students-Not-Actually-In-Law-School” – their term, not mine) using the library. Their issue: the non-law students are loud and take up too much space.

Although I am still in lawbrarian infancy, I have heard similar debates carry over about public patrons using academic law libraries. Obviously, if any patron is disruptive, they can be shown the door. However, it’s no secret that helping some public patrons can be time-consuming and quite stressful, especially if they are self-represented and in dire need of legal information.

I believe most academic law libraries prioritize students and faculty, but there was one instance in particular where I had to ask a law student to wait while I assisted a frazzled and confused public patron for an extended period of time (I, like many newbie librarians, have not quite mastered the Closing/Follow Up portion of reference encounters.) The law student, while gracious, ended up leaving and coming back on a different day.

A former UC lawbrarian caught wind of the debate over SNAILS (such an unfortunate acronym) and decided to write a short response over what he calls the elitism at play:

For 15 years, I have heard these complaints go on incessantly, and frankly, they just reek of elitism. The fact that they complain about the mere existence of non-law students in their library is quite pathetic. My job was to ensure that the rules were applied fairly to everyone, and that includes the non-law students who they have such disdain for.

Interesting debate!