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The Cost of Calling from a Detention Center

This week, The Nation, had a profile this on the outrageous price of making a phone call from immigrant detention centers.  These exorbitant prices effectively cut off communication between detainees, their family members and immigration attorneys while creating a profit for the detention centers and telecommunication companies. Rates vary widely among detention centers. For example, the Santa Ana City Jail in California charges 69 cents a minute plus a $3.30 connection fee for every in-state call. A 15 minute phone call can cost up to $13!  Detention centers maintain contracts with telecommunications companies that keep rates up high and collect a commission on all

For immigrants in detention centers waiting for their hearings, the ability to make phone calls to attorneys, family, and friends is absolutely essential. Unlike those in criminal detention, immigrants do not have the right to legal representation nor access to court appointed attorneys. Therefore, it is their responsibility to hire an attorney, which often requires making phone calls.

If an immigrant does hire an immigration lawyer, it can be nearly impossible to even speak with his attorney. In some detention centers, detainees are only allowed to make calls outside of business hours or the rates are so exorbitantly high that they can’t afford to call.

This makes representing a client in detention even more difficult. Simple questions and follow ups may take days to be answered or resolved. Collecting documents can be nearly impossible. As The Nation mentions, family members become invaluable intermediaries between the immigration lawyer and the detainee, facilitating all communication and document gathering necessary to filing a case in immigration court.

These sky high prices for phone calls hit immigrant families especially hard, considering the detainee is often a primary breadwinner in the family. On top of preparing for a case in immigration court, these family members are working as hard as they can to get by on less income while also saving money for these outrageously expensive phone calls, which of course, are vital lifeline for their detained relative.

That detention centers and telecommunications companies are making a profit of charging immigrant detainees is not at all surprising. The prison-industrial complex in the United States has gotten completely out of hand, especially in regards to immigration. On top of the arbitrary mandatory bed quota, high prices for phone calls further erode immigrant detainees' right to due process.