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VICTORY: Federal Court Rules Immigration Detainees Deserve Fair Hearings

Michael Tan,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
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August 7, 2013

Today we won another victory against one of the most draconian parts of our immigration system: the federal government’s practice of putting immigrants in long-term detention without the basic due process of a bond hearing. In Rodriguez v. Robbins, a class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU, a federal district court held that the government must provide automatic bond hearings to immigrants detained six months or longer in the Los Angeles area while fighting their deportation cases. The decision follows on the heels of a victory at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this spring, which previously ordered bond hearings for some class members.

The government’s track record on detention makes the importance of this ruling clear. The immigration lock-up system is massive, wasteful, and hugely expensive to taxpayers. In 2011, the government detained a record-breaking 429,000 immigrants at a price tag of $2 billion, even though most immigrants pose no threat to public safety and do not need to be locked up to make sure they show up for court. In many cases, the basic due process of a bond hearing would have prevented months or years of arbitrary detention and saved countless taxpayer dollars.

One example is Byron Merida. Byron has lived in the United States for nearly three decades and started several successful small businesses. All of his immediate family members are U.S. citizens or green card holders. Nonetheless, the government detained Byron without a bond hearing after it put him in deportation proceedings following his conviction for a non-violent crime. The government kept Byron behind bars while his immigration case wound through the courts, including his successful appeal to the Ninth Circuit. When Byron finally got a bond hearing as a result of our case, the immigration judge ordered him released on a $2,500 bond. In total, the government needlessly detained Byron for three years and four months—at a cost of nearly $200,000 to taxpayers.

Today’s ruling also establishes key safeguards at prolonged detention hearings, requiring that the government provide them automatically and with adequate notice to the detainees, and noting that immigration judges should consider cost-effective alternatives to detention, such as ankle monitors, that avoid the fiscal and human costs of long-term lock-up. These safeguards will help ensure that the government stops arbitrarily stripping people of their liberty.

Rodriguez v. Robbins is being litigated by the ACLU of Southern California, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic of Stanford Law School, and the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP.

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