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Immigration Detainees Have the Right to Due Process, Too

Michael Tan,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
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September 14, 2012

Alejandro Rodriguez’s parents brought him from Mexico when he was a baby. Prior to his detention, Alejandro earned his green card and lived near his extended family in Los Angeles, working as a dental assistant to support his two U.S. citizen children. The two convictions that gave rise to his detention and deportation case were minor and non-violent— joyriding when he was 19, and a misdemeanor drug possession when he was 24. Alejandro posed no flight risk or danger to the community and yet, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) locked Alejandro up for more than three years without a bond hearing. Bond hearings are a basic and guaranteed principle of due process in the American judicial system, but thousands of immigrants like Alejandro are denied this fundamental right on a daily basis.

We went to court to challenge his detention, and Alejandro eventually won his immigration case after an immigration judge ruled that he need not be deported for his relatively minor convictions. But Alejandro lost three years of his life, and time with his children, for no reason.

This week, we won a victory against one of the most draconian features of our immigration detention system: the government’s practice of putting immigrants like Alejandro in long-term lockup while they fight their immigration cases, without ever holding a bond hearing to determine if they should be behind bars in the first place. In Rodriguez v. Hayes, a federal district court ordered bond hearings for hundreds of immigrant detainees in the Los Angeles area, where the government will finally have to prove that their imprisonment is justified. The government’s track record makes the importance of this ruling clear. In scores of cases, the basic due process of a bond hearing would have prevented months or years of arbitrary detention and saved countless taxpayer dollars.

This ruling provides relief to two groups similarly trapped in long-term immigration lock-up. The first group consists of immigrants arrested at the border. Often these immigrants have escaped horrific conditions in their home countries to seek asylum in the United States, only to be locked up—potentially for years—based on an officer’s decision to check a box on a form. The second group consists of immigrants, like Alejandro, whom ICE believes are deportable based on a crime, including minor offenses like simple drug possession and certain misdemeanors. These immigrants receive no chance to argue for their release before a judge, regardless of how long they languish in detention. Such detention is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars, at a daily cost of $164 per detainee per day, and more than $2 billion a year.

For these immigrants, this ruling reaffirms that, in America, no one should be locked up for months or years without a hearing to determine if their detention is justified.

Note: Rodriguez is being litigated by attorneys at the ACLU of Southern California, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Stanford Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, and Sidley Austin LLP.

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