Immigration attorneys who have been trying to meet with detainees at the federal prison in Sheridan, Ore., finally met today with men held there on immigration charges.
Attorneys working with the Innovation Law Lab, a nonprofit that provides legal counsel to immigrants, tried and failed multiple times to meet with detainees because of scheduling errors.
A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on Monday mandating that the prison allow immigration detainees to meet with lawyers and attend "Know Your Rights" sessions. The lawyer representing the federal government told the court that the meetings had been delayed as federal prison officials worked to ensure that the detainees were safe inside the facility.
The morning after the judge's order, immigration attorneys entered the prison and met with the immigrant men being held there.
"We knew it would be difficult on our first day, but nothing prepares you for witnessing the struggle of dozens of human beings who have been imprisoned for weeks without notice or understanding of why," says Erin Pettigrew, a civil rights attorney at the Innovation Law Lab.
The federal government moved 123 immigrant men to FCI Sheridan last month under an unprecedented policy to house immigration detainees in federal prisons. At least six of the men say they were separated from their children at the border. Some say they were detained after presenting themselves to border patrol agents at a legal port of entry in San Ysidro, Calif.
"The most common question we received was 'How long will I be here?'" says Victoria Muirhead, another lawyer working with the Innovation Law Lab. "As immigration attorneys and legal advocates, we should have answers to those questions. Sadly, we do not."