The lawsuit targets the Baker County Sheriff’s Office, which operates an infamous detention center with a long history of human rights violations
Macclenny, Fla. – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida sued the Baker County Sheriff’s Office after officials illegally denied in-person attorney visits to people detained at the Baker County Detention Center. The lawsuit claims that the Baker County Sheriff's Office, which is under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), violated ICE standards and the United States Constitution by denying attorneys access to meet with existing and potential clients without justification. The ACLU of Florida alerted ICE about the violation, but the federal agency failed to take any action.
The complaint describes a specific incident in which the Baker County Sheriff’s Office approved “Know Your Rights” presentations and legal visits well ahead of time, but then canceled both the presentations and legal visits without explanation at the last minute. The Sheriff’s Office also denied attorneys access to their clients when they arrived at the facility the morning of September 9 and stated they would reevaluate future visits that had already been scheduled, signaling the ongoing denial of individuals’ right to counsel.
The “Know Your Rights” presentations and legal visits were intended to be the first of many events hosted by the Baker Legal Assistance Program, a program created by the ACLU of Florida and law school immigration clinics at the University of Florida, Florida State University, and the University of Miami. The program was created with the goal of expanding legal representation for immigrants detained at the Baker County Detention Center.
“We launched the Baker Legal Assistance Program because we knew there were systemic barriers to accessing counsel at the Baker County Detention Center, among other egregious abuses and conditions,” said Katie Blankenship, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Florida. “The move by the Sheriff’s Office to deny individuals access to legal representation only underscores the fact that they are unfit to care for migrants and blatantly violates the U.S. Constitution. People are suffering at Baker, and we must ensure those in power are kept accountable.”
While the cancellation of legal visits is the most recent incident, the facility has a long history of creating barriers for immigrants attempting to access legal assistance. Baker has failed to offer individuals private and confidential phone calls with attorneys, and the facility provides little to no legal materials for individuals to properly prepare for their cases. According to the Florida Detention Database, there have been 86 complaints citing barriers to accessing legal assistance at Baker since 2017. For over a decade, multiple complaints from the Baker County Detention Center have been filed, exposing a deep-rooted pattern of rampant human rights abuses and inhuman living conditions.
Multiple local and national organizations are calling for the safe release of all immigrants detained at the detention center and for the termination of Baker County Sheriff's Office’s contract with ICE. The lawsuit was filed in the Middle District of Florida.
The complaint can be found here: aclufl.org/en/aclu-fl-v-bcso-et-al