Aid group files claim accusing ICE, private prison, of blocking migrants' legal access

Aid group files claim accusing ICE, private prison, of blocking migrants' legal access
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A legal aid group for immigrants filed a formal complaint with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), claiming that the agency is working with a private prison corporation to restrict migrant access to its legal services at a Texas detention facility. 

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Service (RAICES) filed the complaint, dated Tuesday, saying its visits to the Karnes County detention center are being restricted by ICE and GEO Group. It said in the complaint that as of Monday, 42 people were waiting to meet with RAICES volunteers. 

"We request that ICE immediately address changes in policies and practice that have made this statutory right to consultation impossible for many persons detained at Karnes who seek to consult with RAICES and pro bono volunteers," the group wrote to officials at ICE's San Antonio Field Office. 

In a statement, the organization said that ICE and Geo Group have been "working in cahoots" to prevent people from accessing their services. 

"For over a month now ICE, working in cahoots with the Geo Group ... created obstacles to prevent individuals detained at Karnes from accessing our free legal services," the statement said. "ICE and GEO created these barriers because they said providing legal access was too resource intensive for GEO."

ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda sent The Hill a statement that said Karnes is now housing adult women instead of family units, resulting in a higher population and more people being represented by private attorneys. 

"To ensure attorney access to visitation, the number of daily group meetings were reduced," the statement said. It added that no standard provisions had been changed and that ICE provides 12 hours of legal visitation every day. 

A GEO Group spokesperson told The Hill in a statement that the company "plays no role in setting the policies that govern attorney visitation and legal access to the Karnes Residential Center and other ICE Processing Centers."

"As a service provider and contractor to the federal government, our company is required to abide by policies and procedures set by the government," the spokesperson added.