Lawsuit Filed Against U.S. Government Seeks Change in Artesia Facility's Deportation Process

Lawsuit Filed Against U.S. Government Seeks Change in Artesia Facility's Deportation Process

By Alicia Neaves

NewsWest 9

ARTESIA - Numerous civil rights organizations are suing the U.S. government. They claim undocumented immigrant women and children housed in a detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico aren't getting the proper legal representation.

One of these civil rights groups referred to the Artesia facility as a "deportation mill" because of the alleged policies that quickly deport undocumented immigrants without attorneys.

The goal of the lawsuit is change so the women and children can at least have a fair hearing.

Various civil rights organizations are fighting to serve the basic needs of the 600 undocumented women and children housed at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico.

"They are being met with a process that is intent on nothing more than to return them to potential violence or even death," Melissa Keaney, Staff Attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, said.

The National immigration Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union are among the organizations involved in the lawsuit, which claims the lack of due process in the Artesia facility isn't allowing the women and children to present their cases for asylum.

A huge component, advocates say, is location.

"It's very far from any major cities. So these women are very restricted in their ability to communicate with the outside world, even with attorneys," Keaney said.

In the only detention facility in the country that houses undocumented women and children, advocates were also informed that some attorneys aren't told about certain interviews.

"The women are prevented from speaking to their attorneys. In the interviews, if the attorneys are even present, sometimes they are told they're not allowed to speak at all," Keaney said.

As the defendant in the lawsuit, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement, "The inter-agency response to this unprecedented surge has been both humane and lawful. As a matter of policy, we do not specifically comment on pending litigation."

They go on to say, "U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilitates the daily presence of volunteer attorneys at the Artesia Family Residential Center (AFRC). These volunteer attorneys provide free on-site legal services to AFRC residents. All AFRC residents have access to these free attorneys through volunteer attorney mailboxes located in the housing dormitories. AFRC residents who want to see an on-site free attorney place their names in the associated mailbox in their dormitory. The residents will then be scheduled for an on-site appointment. In addition, ICE's Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) has regular contact with the organizers of these volunteer attorneys to address any concerns that may arise relating to access to counsel issues."

As for plans of expanding the facility, some attorneys think it will only worsen the alleged problem.

"I think it's just going to further the issues that we're seeing and make this an even more unfair and meaningless process for the women who are there," Keaney said.

The National Immigration Law Center says now they are seeking protection of the identity of the plaintiffs in this case due to sensitive information.