ACLU of Arizona Hires Former FIRRP Executive Director to Head Immigrant Detention Advocacy Project

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
March 31, 2009 12:00 am

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PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona today announced the appointment of Victoria Lopez, the former executive director of the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, to lead its Immigrant Detention Advocacy Project. The new initiative will investigate the treatment of persons confined in Arizona by immigration authorities including Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), Border Patrol, and local agencies enforcing federal immigration law. Recent studies have indicated significant failures in the operation of short and long term detention facilities, many of which are run by private for-profit corporations.

“Victoria is an enormously talented and respected lawyer and immigrant rights advocate,” said ACLU of Arizona Executive Director Alessandra Soler Meetze. “We are thrilled that she has chosen to devote her time and energy to our shared effort to document and raise public awareness about the serious deficiencies that lead to civil and human rights abuses at ICE detention facilities.”

Lopez, 33, began working as an attorney with the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project in 2001. She served in that capacity for three years before becoming the group’s executive director – a position she held through 2007. During her tenure as executive director, she advocated for increased legal services in immigration hearings, helped streamline the grievance process for detainees, and served as a liaison to local and national organizations and government agencies on immigration detention issues in Arizona. She has been working as an immigration attorney since leaving the non-profit in 2007.

Often described in national and local news articles as “ground zero in the immigration fight,” the state of Arizona has over the past several years served as a testing ground for policies that violate the constitutional and human rights of immigrants and migrants. On January 1, 2008, the nation’s toughest and most far-reaching employer sanctions law went into effect. Prior to that, Arizona became the first state in the nation to deny bail to undocumented immigrants and to misapply a state anti-smuggling statute in order to charge immigrants with conspiring to smuggle themselves. In addition, the state – with 319 – has the country’s largest number of “deputized” police officers enforcing immigration laws. These “interior enforcement” efforts, combined with increased Border Patrol apprehensions along the 262-mile Arizona/Mexico border, have led to a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants who are jailed for longer periods in ICE detention facilities throughout the state.

The growth in detention has resulted in often horrible conditions of confinement, especially for immigrant families, asylum-seekers and the mentally-ill. Asylum-seeking women are often incarcerated with criminal inmates, forced to wear prison uniforms, and frequently subjected to physical and verbal abuse. Further, as demonstrated in other contexts, detention facilities run by private corporations such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), as are most of the ICE beds in Arizona, have been found to ignore the basic needs and fundamental rights of these vulnerable populations in the quest for higher profits.

There are approximately 2,500 ICE detention beds in Arizona. They include the Eloy Detention Facility (a 1,500 bed detention center), the Florence Detention Center (a 750-bed ICE-owned detention facility), and two 150-bed facilities run by CCA in Florence. The CCA-run facility in Eloy plans to add another 900 beds this year. Additionally, the Pinal County Jail contracts with ICE to house 624 detainees, including 200 women; other local jails are also utilized by ICE at great taxpayer cost. Children are detained in privately-run shelters in Phoenix that operate under contract with ICE.

Additional biographical information for Victoria Lopez is below.

Victoria Lopez has advocated for the rights of ICE detainees in Arizona for eight years. Prior to joining the ACLU, Victoria worked in private practice focusing on removal defense and detention matters. From 2001 through 2007 she worked for the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Florence, Arizona. As an Equal Justice Works Fellow from 2001 through 2003 she provided legal representation and monitored and advocated for changes in detention conditions for immigrant women. Following her fellowship, Victoria remained at the Florence Project as a staff attorney where she conducted legal rights presentations and pro se workshops for detained men and women at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. From 2005-2007 she served as the executive director of the Florence Project. In that capacity, Victoria acted as the organization’s liaison with government agencies and worked with immigrant rights advocates across the country to expand access to legal services and improve detention conditions for immigrants. She served on the steering committee for the Detention Watch Network from 2005 through 2007. She is currently a board member for the Tucson-based Border Action Network. Prior to her work in Arizona, Victoria interned with the Pennsylvania Immigrant Rights Center in York, PA and Centro Romero in Chicago, IL. Victoria received her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois-Champaign.

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