Law Clinics from the University of Miami, University of Florida, and Florida State University, along with the ACLU of Florida, created the Baker Legal Assistance Program
Jacksonville, Fla. – Today, the Florida State University Farmworker & Immigration Rights Clinic, the University of Florida Immigration Clinic and the University of Miami School of Law Immigration Clinic, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU of Florida), launched the Baker Legal Assistance Program. This unprecedented statewide partnership will seek to provide legal assistance to individuals detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody at the Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, Florida.
The new program will shed light and address the mistreatment of immigrants at the detention center while providing access to counsel for their immigration cases. A first-of-its-kind project, the Baker Legal Assistance Program will bring together students and attorneys from three major law schools in Florida, while collaborating with the ACLU of Florida and pro-bono attorneys. This new effort will increase legal representation for those in detention and support advocacy efforts to address reports of abuse and inhumane conditions at the Baker County Detention Center.
By providing guidance, resources, and legal assistance, the program will also mitigate barriers to access counsel many immigrants face throughout the immigration detention system. People who are detained are 11 times more likely to apply for temporary or permanent stay in the United States when they have legal counsel and are twice as likely to obtain temporary or permanent legal status than those without counsel. In Florida, less than half of people facing deportation cases have legal representation.
“Baker is well-known for its deplorable conditions and the lack of access to legal representation experienced by those detained there. Its remote location and absence of reliable communication methods makes it nearly impossible for legal service providers to provide assistance,” said Professor Ashley Hamill, director of the Farmworker & Immigration Rights Clinic at Florida State University. “Our goal is to ensure individuals detained at Baker have an opportunity to access counsel and to advocate for them to be treated with respect, humanity and dignity.”
The collaboration will include university clinics working together to provide intake, case assessment and, where appropriate, counsel for those detained at Baker to ensure more individuals succeed in their immigration cases and are released from the facility.
“We have known about poor conditions and lack of legal representation at Baker for years, but it has been difficult to do anything about it. Last semester, six students and I traveled to Baker and talked to over a hundred detained individuals. Based on what we learned, we felt compelled to continue working on improving the situation at the jail," said Professor Rebecca Sharpless, associate dean for experiential learning and director of the University of Miami School of Law’s Immigration Clinic. “We are thrilled to be working in coalition with others to address the situation.”
The ACLU of Florida will assist the law schools by providing consultations to immigrants who are detained about their complaints of mistreatment and will advocate on behalf of individuals to address ongoing abuses at Baker.
“Not only do barriers to legal representation at Baker leave individuals who are detained at an incredible disadvantage – they also increase the likelihood that reports of abuse or inhumane conditions will go unheard,” said Katie Blankenship, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Florida. “Access to counsel is a matter of life or death for people being held in dangerous conditions for extensive periods or returned to the violence from which they fled.”
“Access to legal counsel is foundational to the preservation of individual rights in our legal system. Immigration removal proceedings perfectly encapsulate this need as they task individuals with navigating ambiguous laws in legal hearings conducted in a foreign language,” said Professor Juan Caballero, director of the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law Immigration Clinic. “Facilities like Baker make these obstacles exponentially more difficult by physically removing individuals from their families and communities, while also limiting their ability to access legal assistance.”
Individuals who are detained will be able to sign up for consultations this Fall. They can also report complaints regarding their conditions at Baker with the ACLU of Florida through the Florida Detention Database at 786-363-3095 or email@example.com. To learn more about the Baker Legal Assistance Program, visit aclufl.org/baker-legal-assistance-program.