Detained Immigrants Facing Prospect of Solitary Confinement Often Have No Access to Counsel

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a proposal by Robert Katzmann, a federal appellate judge in New York, to develop an “immigrant justice corps” program that would recruit and train young lawyers to assist illegal immigrants. I speculated in that post about whether the problem of inadequate legal representation for immigrants in general (especially low-income immigrants) might acquire greater urgency in the near future, once an immigration reform bill is passed.

Last week, in case you missed it, the New York Times reported on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s horrific use of solitary confinement on detained immigrants. (If you read the article—and you should—I think you’ll agree that my choice of the word “horrific” is not hyperbole.) One has to wonder whether better and more widely available legal representation would keep this practice in check. As the author of the piece notes, immigrant detainees are not automatically represented by legal counsel, and about 85% have none, and the consequences can be dire. I wish the piece would have made the connection between this problem and the efforts that Judge Katzman and others are making to address the adequate counsel issue.

I can’t imagine why anyone facing the potentially devastating psychological effects of long-term solitary confinement should not have access to counsel.