Immigrants Shouldn’t Be Locked Up for Being Poor

In the federal criminal bail system, judges are required to consider someone’s financial ability to pay a bond and determine if alternative conditions of supervision — check-ins, travel restrictions — are enough to get the person to show up for court.

But such protections don’t apply to immigrants locked up in detention centers. The result is that people like Cesar Matias, a gay man from Honduras, end up jailed simply because they’re poor.

Matias fled to the United States more than a decade ago to escape the persecution he suffered because of his sexuality. He worked as a hair stylist and in a clothing factory in Los Angeles, renting a small, one-bedroom apartment.

He never made enough money to save any because he had to spend all his earnings on rent, groceries, clothing, and other necessities.

Immigration authorities arrested Matias in March 2012 and locked him up in the city jail in Santa Ana, California, while his application for asylum under the United Nations Convention against Torture was being decided.

Eight months later an immigration judge found that he posed no threat to the community and no significant flight risk and ordered him released on a $3,000 bond.

Yet nearly four years later, Matias is still locked up simply because he can’t afford to make bail.

Today the ACLU filed a class-action suit in Los Angeles to end the federal government’s detention of immigrants like Cesar simply because they’re too poor to pay their bond. At least about 100 immigrants — and likely many more — are detained in the Los Angeles area on bonds they can’t afford, even though a judge has found they don’t need to be locked up.

Imprisoning people because they’re poor — whether citizens or immigrants — violates our fundamental commitments to due process and equal protection.

Imprisoning people because they’re poor — whether citizens or immigrants — violates our fundamental commitments to due process and equal protection. Indeed, the Department of Justice has argued that locking up criminal defendants “because of their inability to pay for their release” is unconstitutional.

A growing consensus of federal courts has come to the same conclusion. Yet, the federal government engages in this very practice when it comes to immigrant detainees.

Not only is this practice unfair and discriminatory — it also makes no sense. There’s no reason to keep people like Cesar locked up — at a rate of $159 a day — just because they  don’t have bond money. And it really defies reason to continue to jail them when judges have already said that they can be released.

Indeed, there are compelling arguments that we should not rely on money bond at all to guarantee a person shows up in court since doing so discriminates against the poor without making our communities any safer. But where we use bond, we at least need to have basic protections in place to make sure that people aren’t locked up solely because of their poverty.

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Anonymous

So, was this gentleman here legally or illegally?

Anonymous

It is legal to seek asylum protection. We have a process for applying and considering asylum applications. We just need to work on how we treat people while their case is being considered.

Anonymous

Doesn't matter if he was documented or not. Our constitution applies to EVERYONE.

Anonymous

quit trolling, loser. that's really not the matter here. btw what are you, legal or illegal? and how do you justify it?

Anonymous

This is why I love the ACLU, this is horrible, four years! Wow, must of been a racist bunch of people to let this happen. It's always about money, if your an ass**** with money, you can get out, but a saint who's poor, you get a cage. Even so, leaving someone locked up who didn't commit a crime sounds like IRAN. Except the USA mass incarcerates more of our people than even the worst dictators in the world. Keep up the good work. I hope you expose more, it's happening all over, no $, no justice. No system for the poor. Such a long way to go, my heart goes out to all the good men and women locked up in cages right now.

Anonymous

or classist

Anonymous

Yes immigrants should be locked up. Period. Thank you

Anonymous

at the cost of a 159 dollars a day?

Harry

Criminal entrants (illegal aliens) are not entitled to be set free only to be deported, nailed, or fined. That is the law

(a) Improper time or place; avoidance of examination or inspection; misrepresentation and concealment of facts
Any alien who (1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or (2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or (3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.

(b) Improper time or place; civil penaltiesAny alien who is apprehended while entering (or attempting to enter) the United States at a time or place other than as designated by immigration officers shall be subject to a civil penalty of—
(1) at least $50 and not more than $250 for each such entry (or attempted entry); or
(2) twice the amount specified in paragraph (1) in the case of an alien who has been previously subject to a civil penalty under this subsection.
Civil penalties under this subsection are in addition to, and not in lieu of, any criminal or other civil penalties that may be imposed.
(c) Marriage fraud
Any individual who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws shall be imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or fined not more than $250,000, or both.

(d) Immigration-related entrepreneurship fraud
Any individual who knowingly establishes a commercial enterprise for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws shall be imprisoned for not more than 5 years, fined in accordance with title 18, or both.

Should bail be set as to a person's ability to pay. I believe it should. A poor man has little but if he has honor his word is the greatest thing he will ever own. A multimillionaire looking at a 100,000 bond wouldn't be a stretch.

The important issue is speeding up the criminal justice system so those who can not make bond do not sit for years to prove they are innocent

Anonymous

Instead of locking up illigal aliens, ship them back to there homeland. And build a huge electric fence on the boarder (using liberals wind energy), to keep them out!

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