Lawyers sue ICE over videoconference immigration hearings

A group of detained immigrants and the lawyers representing them filed a federal lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, accusing the agency of violating their constitutional rights by forcing them to use videoconferencing for their court appearances instead of bringing them in person.

In the suit, which the seven detainees along with three public defender groups filed in Manhattan on Tuesday, the plaintiffs said the reliance solely on videoconferences has "had disastrous effects on detained immigrants, the ability of their attorneys to effectively represent them, and the efficiency of the immigration court" and said the motivation was "the government's nationwide effort to expedite deportations at the expense of due process."

ICE said it does not comment on pending litigation.

Prior to last June, detained immigrants facing deportation hearings in New York City were brought in person to the court at Varick Street.

But ICE suspended transfers, in favor of video conferencing. At that time, the agency said it was due to safety concerns over protests outside the facility, which demonstrators then discontinued. But the use of videoconferencing remained, and according to the lawsuit, ICE said there were other reasons including cost effectiveness.

The public defender groups in the suit make up the attorneys who represent detainees pro-bono through a New York City program.

In the suit, they said not having detained immigrants come to the court has impacted their ability to represent them effectively. They said there are also confidentiality issues, that immigrants had no way to speak to their attorneys privately if they were on videoconference, and also pointed to technological and logistical issues, like whether the facilities where they are detained could effectively carry out the number of videoconference calls required, and whether interpretation could be done properly.

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Deepti Hajela covers issues of race, ethnicity and immigration for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dhajela . For more of her work, search for her name at https://apnews.com .