Most undocumented immigrants fleeing violence or poverty are apprehended by immigration authorities in border states like California, but a recent National Public Radio study reveals that more than half of them are sent to detention centers in remote rural areas. This worries advocacy groups because immigrants detained in these facilities find it more difficult to obtain legal representation and are more likely to have their asylum claims denied.

Only 14% of the immigrants being held in detention facilities are represented by a lawyer according to a study published in 2015 by the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, but that figure drops to below 4% among those being held in more remote locations. Groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center believe that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is deliberately sending undocumented immigrants to these detention centers to make their legal battles more difficult to win. Government figures reveal that there are currently more than 25,000 immigrants being held in rural facilities.

ICE says that it selects detention centers based on their proximity to hospitals, airports and legal resources, and the agency claims that all of its facilities feature telephone and video conferencing capabilities. However, immigration attorneys say that the conferencing equipment often does not work and restrictive visiting hours and a lack of interpreters makes representing clients in remote locations extremely challenging.

Most of the immigrants being held in ICE facilities hope to be offered asylum in the United States, but their petitions will be unsuccessful unless they are able to convince an immigration judge that they would face persecution or violence if deported based on their national origin, religion, race or political views. Attorneys with experience in this area could explain the other paths available to those who wish to work and live legally in the United States.