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SEATTLE – A federal court ruled late yesterday that a class of immigrants detained at the Tacoma-based Northwest Detention Center must be given bond hearings. The court’s decision comes at the same time that hundreds of immigrant detainees are participating in a hunger strike at the facility. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones also denied defendants' motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought on behalf of immigrant detainees by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union, with co-counsel from the Seattle law firm Gibbs Houston Pauw.
"The court’s ruling recognizes what is at stake, the anguish and hardship caused by being locked up for months," said Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. "A bond hearing is not a free ticket out of jail. But at least a person has the right to present their case. That is all they are seeking, a fair shot."
The complaint charges that the defendants – the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security – kept the class members locked up without even the opportunity for a bond hearing, where an immigration judge could determine whether they presented a flight risk or a danger to the community.
In the ruling, Judge Jones said it was clear that many of the detainees presented "no risk to their communities and no risk of flight, because some of them have been living in this country for decades and have families and careers. What the government thinks about a law that locks away peaceable family members without release, the court can only guess."
The immigration statute requires people who are taken immediately into immigration custody after serving a sentence for certain crimes be kept locked up without an opportunity for a bond hearing. However, the defendants applied this "mandatory detention" provision even to those who had been permitted to return to their families and community. In his order, Judge Jones made clear that this expansive interpretation violates the plain language of the statute.
All three named plaintiffs, two of whom are lawful permanent residents, had been convicted of crimes, and then released to return to their families and employment. Only years later did the Department of Homeland Security arrest them. Instead of affording the plaintiffs an opportunity to demonstrate that they should be permitted to remain with their family and employment during the long immigration proceedings, defendants locked them up without even a bond hearing.
"I was shocked that I could be held without even a chance to have a bond hearing. I never expected something like that could happen in this country. Being detained without even the possibility of a bond hearing was very disturbing and stressful, and caused anguish and financial difficulty for me and my family. I saw that it was also very traumatic for detainees and their families. I am happy to see the judge’s decision that put an end to this illegal action, and I am really happy to be able to help others obtain justice too," said plaintiff Bassam Khoury.
The complaint, Khoury v. Asher, was filed in August 2013 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. It challenges the government’s systemic failure in denying bond hearings to this group of individuals, even though over the last 15 years the district court has time and again rejected the government’s position in individual cases.
"Thanks to the court's decision, the government can no longer lock up people who have been living peacefully in the community for months or even years, without giving them a bond hearing," said Eunice Lee, a detention attorney for the ACLU.