The government must allow Salvadoran children being held at the Nogales Processing Center to meet with lawyers after a federal judge in Los Angeles found that immigration officials are in violation of a federal injunction.

Salvadorans were certified as a class for the purpose of a 1982 lawsuit challenging the practices and procedures used by then the Immigration and Naturalization Service to detain, process and remove them from the country.

A preliminary injunction was made permanent in 1988 after the court found immigration officials had used coercive tactics to force Salvadoran immigrants to give up their right to request asylum. Known as the Orantes injunction, it requires officials to give Salvadorans written notice about their rights, as well as access to counsel, legal materials and telephones.

Lawyers for the class had been in negotiations with the government to meet with Salvadoran minors being held in detention facilities around the country. Although they have been promised access to the facility in Artesia, New Mexico, they petitioned the court after they were told it was impossible to meet with their clients in Nogales.

“It’s beyond belief that the government has been across the board categorically denying these children at Nogales, who are fleeing violence, the right to meet with their lawyers,” said Jennifer Chang Newell, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union and a member of the class counsel.

“The court’s ruling means that despite the urgency of the situation at the border, these children’s rights must be fully respected and upheld,” she said.

The government argued the Nogales center has no available space where private discussions may be held and that because it is a secure facility it would be difficult to expand or convert existing space to accommodate these meetings, court documents show.

It also claimed it was in compliance of the injunction and didn’t need to provide lawyers access since they had shown no evidence the government was in violation. But the court found that the act of denying counsel access to the immigrant minors itself violated the terms of the injunction.

Although there is currently no evidence that Salvadoran immigrants are being coerced in any way, lawyers said gaining access to their clients is the only way to know for sure.

“The purpose of meeting with them is to find out how they’ve been treated, to see whether the government is complying with the requirements of the injunction,” said Linton Joaquin, a lawyer with the National Immigration Law Center and class counsel.

Joaquin said political realities played a role on why the government seemed to be throwing up roadblocks to deny immigrants counsel.

“They’re responding to the increasing numbers as a crisis that they have to resolve by removing more people more quickly,” he said. “But I think in the process there has to be a careful, individualized attention given to the cases.”

As a compromise action, the court ordered the government to provide a list of the Salvadoran immigrants currently in custody at the Nogales center, out of which counsel will select and meet with 25 minors. The government has until July 30 to comply.

While immigrants from other nationalities cannot directly benefit from the Orantes injunction, in practice many of the provisions benefit everyone in detention, said Joaquin, including access to legal materials and telephones.

Contact reporter Luis F. Carrasco at or 807-8029. On Twitter: @lfcarrasco