Blog of Rights

Judge Rules that Immigrants in Long-term Lock-up Have Rights

By Eunice Lee, Detention Attorney, ACLU, Immigrants' Rights Project at 4:41pm

Yesterday, a federal district court in Massachusetts ordered the government to provide Mark Anthony Reid, a U.S. Army veteran who has spent over a year in immigration detention, with the basic due process of an immigration bond hearing. The court held that the government may not detain individuals like Reid for more than six months without a hearing to determine if they need to be imprisoned.

The decision in Reid v. Donelan adds to a growing consensus among the federal courts that long-term detention without a bond hearing is unlawful, building upon the ACLU's landmark victory in Rodriguez v. Robbins. In that case, we brought a class-action lawsuit on behalf of long-term immigrant detainees and secured a ruling requiring bond hearings after six months. Our victory benefited thousands of immigrant detainees across the Ninth Circuit, which houses 25 percent of people currently in immigration lock-up. Like the Ninth Circuit, the Massachusetts district court adopted a uniform rule requiring the government to provide bond hearings to people detained six months or longer.

As the court explained yesterday, this rule makes sense not only because six months of imprisonment is a serious deprivation of freedom, but also because it helps guarantee that the men and women in immigration lock-up—84 percent of whom don't have a lawyer—receive a modicum of due process. Without an automatic bond hearing, detainees would have no choice but to file individual lawsuits in federal court to be heard. But as the court notes, it's unreasonable to expect immigrant detainees to navigate this "legal thicket." Many of them do not speak English; almost all lack legal training; and many are held in remote jails and prisons where they have no real access to an attorney—even if they could afford one.

Unlike most people in his situation, Reid was lucky enough to find pro bono attorneys at the Yale Law School's Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic to bring his case. Reid came to the U.S. at age 14 and has lived here as a green card holder for over 35 years. He served six years in the U.S. Army Reserve and was honorably discharged. Although he has a criminal history resulting from substance abuse and mental health issues, he has undergone treatment and is focused on continuing his education. Moreover, Reid has support from his two U.S. citizen children.

But for over a year, the government held Reid in no-bond immigration detention without considering his veteran status, his family ties, his rehabilitation, or any other fact about his life. Instead, it warehoused him up in a massive immigration prison system without ever taking a look at whether he needed to be locked up in the first place. This immigration prison system costs taxpayers about two billion dollars a year.

Fortunately, the courts are listening to Reid and others like him. No one should be held in long-term lock-up without a hearing to determine if he needs to be imprisoned. The Obama Administration should adopt the rulings of Reid and Rodriguez nationwide and provide bond hearings to all immigrant detainees after six months. This will ensure due process for all immigration detainees while advancing a clear, uniform national policy.

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