Victory: Federal Court Holds That the Government Can’t Lock Up Immigrants for Being Poor

Cesar Matias, a gay man, fled to the United States from Honduras 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 and rented a small, one-bedroom apartment.

In March 2012, immigration agents arrested him; locked him up in the city jail in Santa Ana, California; and put him in deportation proceedings. He applied for asylum, and an immigration judge found him eligible for release while his case was being decided. He then spent the next four years of his life in prison — not because of any crime, but because he couldn’t afford to pay the $3,000 bond set by the judge.

Last week, the ACLU won a path-breaking ruling in federal district court that should help end the government’s practice of keeping immigrants locked up just because they’re poor. The case, Hernandez v. Lynch, is a class-action lawsuit on behalf of immigrants detained in the Los Angeles area. Like Cesar, our class members are all detained on bonds they can’t afford, even though a judge has found that they don’t need to be locked up in the first place and that they pose no threat to the community or significant flight risk.

The district court recognized that imprisoning people because they’re poor violates their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the law. The court’s injunction puts basic, commonsense procedures in place — for the first time in the history of the immigration system — to prevent that detention from happening.

Specifically, it requires that when setting a bond, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and immigration judges must consider the person’s financial capacity and ability to pay, limit the bond to an amount that ensures the person will return to court, and consider alternatives to bail, such as supervised release.

The government’s practice of locking up the immigrant poor is but one example of an out-of-control immigration prison system. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that ICE’s detention centers are bursting at the seams. The agency will soon hold more than 45,000 people in detention on an average day, blowing past all previous records. This comes at huge expense to taxpayers — $2 billion a year — while enriching private prison companies.

The court’s ruling is an important reminder that due process and equal protection apply to all people in America — citizens and immigrants alike. Those rights are what make America great — and the ACLU is here to defend them.

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Anonymous

Hey Atheists,
I'm disabled and poor and I can't afford to pay SMOG every two years on my 1990 Honda CRX; in addition, I am disabled and that law has made it to where I can't get to the Doctor. I am suppose to go each month. I am unable to walk, nor can I stand for more than 15 minutes at a time. I rely on my car for everything! Is there anything that can be done about the smog law. Maybe exceptions/exemptions for the disabled too poor to drive the newer cars that do not require smogging every two years. In addition, my car doesn't pass so it is always a repair job (usually a quite expensive one).

Anonymous

Your story doesn't pass the smell test. There's no way you would drive an imported car. Clearly your car is a 1990 Buick LeSabre.

Anonymous

Just curious, why did you start your complaint with "Dear Atheists"?

Anonymous

gee sounds like you need to appeal to god on that one, not atheists - how can they help you? In addition you aren't in prison if you've noticed. Is mass transit available or not? Can you get help from your church community? isn't that what they are suppose to help you with? Not the government.

Anonymous

Why are you appealing to atheists? That sounds like a problem for God. Isn't your church suppose to help you out? No mass transit available?

Anonymous

In certain states if your car fails a smog test you can apply to the state to get them to pay for your repairs.

Anonymous

Wasn't mentioned why he was arrested. Also if his need for asylum was so great, why didn't he address it first instead of last

Anonymous

I'm very much anti illegal immigrant, but be real anonymous. People can be vicious and mean. He obviously ticked off someone who reported him. Keep in mind he came here because he was persecuted for being Gay (which you know is true - look at how people talk about Gays right HERE). So I have to assume things were pretty bad which is why he took a chance to come here.

bcarroll

What about Americans BORN and Bread in the good ole USA who are and have been sitting in jails throughout this country for the same reason ". Could not make bail, have not been charged and are obviously POOR and BLACK.
Dr Barbara Carroll Former probation/parole officer Michigan Dept of Corrections, WayneCounty, Detroit, Mi

Anonymous

Should that be Corn and Bread or Born and Bred? I was born in the U.S.A and my father bred cattle. My mother raised chicken and used the eggs to make cinnamon Bread. We always had bread of some kind on the table because my parents worked hard but the were not city-bred people. Although we did get bread from the city too.

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