In January 2022, Gabino Medina, who was held at an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Seneca County, Ohio, tried to reach me and his immigration attorney several times, but his calls wouldn’t go through. Gabino informed facility officials that he was having issues with his phone account, but was told not to worry — that he would soon be transferred to another facility and his account would be up and running again soon. A few days later, I finally received a call from Gabino. This time, he was in Mexico.
After preventing Gabino from speaking with me and his immigration attorney, the facility quietly sent him on a flight to a country he had not lived in since he was five. Gabino didn’t discover that he was going to be deported until he landed in Mexico, far from all of his friends and family.
Gabino had a variety of viable legal defenses to removal, all of which were frustrated by his inability to access counsel. Had Gabino not been denied his legal right to speak with his attorneys, he could still be in the United States.
Unfortunately, Gabino’s story is not unique. The Ohio ICE detention facility where Gabino was detained prevents people from communicating with their attorneys by design. The facility doesn’t allow attorneys to schedule phone calls with clients. When attorneys call the facility, they are told that staff will relay a message to their clients to call them back. It is unclear when and how consistently messages are delivered to clients, and even when they are, detained immigrants can only make costly phone calls that are recorded and monitored.
A recent ACLU research report, “No Fighting Chance: ICE’s Denial of Access to Counsel in U.S. Immigration Detention Centers,” documents pervasive barriers to counsel in ICE detention facilities across the country, where countless people, like Gabino, struggle to exercise their basic rights.