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Lawyers sue to slow N.M. immigrants’ deportation

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A coalition of lawyers filed a lawsuit Friday to halt the quick deportation of Central American women and children, saying immigrants at a New Mexico detention center don’t have proper access to lawyers and are being forced to clean restrooms and retell stories of violence and rape in front of children.

The American Civil Liberties Union and three other groups filed the lawsuit in US District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of immigrants being held at an isolated detention center in Artesia.

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The groups say US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials should be more accommodating to the volunteer lawyers who have traveled to the remote site to aid immigrants.

Instead, the groups say, officials are putting illegal barriers between detainees and their lawyers by limiting consultation time and not allowing them to talk on the phone for more than five minutes. The lawyers from around the country are forced to operate in a law library without books and aren’t given full access to their clients, the groups said.

‘‘While expedited removal isn’t new . . . the manner in which it is being implemented in Artesia is new,’’ said Melissa Crow, the legal director of the American Immigration Council, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit. ‘‘Essentially, our government has created a deportation mill.’’

The immigrants are being sent back to their country without any meaningful opportunity to present their claims for asylum, Crow said.

Immigration officials have said in the past detainees were being afforded legal rights.

The lawsuit claims that women being detained at the center are being forced to clean restrooms to earn more phone privileges.

It also says that in asylum hearings with a judge listening by closed-circuit television from Arlington, Va., they often have to recount stories of rape and violence in front of their children.

More than 62,000 immigrants traveling as families, mostly mothers with young children, have been arrested at the border this year. Before the Artesia detention center opened in June, most families were released with a notice to report back to immigration authorities after they arrived at their final US destination.

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