February 5, 2019
By Robert Haley, LSF Associate General Counsel.
Yesterday was emotional but affirmed the reason Matt and I decided to take this opportunity. Today we have been assigned two potential clients to screen and provide a legal analysis of the case. Tuesday’s at the prison are ‘Master Calendar’ days, which are essentially a mix of status hearings, and some removal proceedings.
If you have ever had the pleasure of going to traffic court, or a Walmart on Black Friday (for the non-attorneys), you can picture the scene. Complete chaos. We are escorted to the same room as yesterday but this time there are between 65-75 people inside with enough seating for about 20 people. The officers are calling out the names of detainees as their cases are being called from a televised remote courtroom in Atlanta, Georgia. The officers attempt to pronounce the names as they call out the next case to appear in front of the judicial officer, but the language barrier works both ways. With a thick southern accent, and after a third attempt completely mis-pronouncing a detainee’s name, one officer leaned over to me laughing, “these guys don’t even know their own names most of the time”. I must not have gotten the joke…
While we waited for our potential client to be transported to the visitation room, detainees continued to be called for their hearings and placed into video courtrooms. Many hearings were postponed or rescheduled due to a lack of translation services or other communication issues between the Folkston facility and the Atlanta court. These continuations only further the detainee’s imprisonment.
Shockingly, the duty to explain the outcome of these hearings was left to the ICE officers on site who only communicate with the detainees in English. Furthermore, any official forms or immigration applications provided by the prison as a result of the hearing are provided in English. The officers would then confirm whether the immigrant detainee understood what they were being told. The answer to that question was irrelevant because the next case needed to be addressed and the officer had already moved on before any response was received.
These interactions were incredibly frustrating to witness. The detainees clearly had no idea what they were being told or what was being requested of them. Immigrant detainees do not have a right to be afforded counsel because they are not being charged with a crime. The guards were also incredibly frustrated by the language barriers.