ACLU to Defend Limits on "Mandatory" Immigration Detention

April 6, 2015 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States

Tuesday hearing part of class action lawsuit that has resulted in release of more than 50 people held in Massachusetts jails under “mandatory” immigration detention provision

April 6, 2015

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

BOSTON – The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts will defend a legal ruling that has allowed more than 100 Massachusetts detainees to argue for their freedom in the past year. At an “en banc” hearing on Tuesday, April 6, at 9:30am, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit will hear arguments in two cases–one of which will be argued by the ACLU of Massachusetts–in which district courts rejected the government’s interpretation of a “mandatory” immigration detention provision.

The Tuesday hearing is part of a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts and the national ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project in August 2013. Following the district court’s ruling in that class action in May, at least 50 people have obtained their release from detention after demonstrating to an immigration judge that they did not pose a flight risk or danger warranting continued detention. Many of them are long-time lawful permanent residents whom immigration authorities were detaining on the basis of old criminal convictions.

ACLU client Clayton Gordon came to the United States at age six as a lawful permanent resident, and has lived here for more than 30 years. He served in the U.S. Army, and was honorably discharged.

In June 2013, Gordon was living with his fiancee and their son. He was a homeowner and small business owner, and was working on a project to open a halfway house in the Hartford area for women coming out of incarceration. As he drove to work on June 20, 2013, armed immigration agents surrounded Gordon, seized him, and placed him into mandatory detention because of a 2008 drug offense. Gordon was held without the possibility of bond even though he had spent less than a day in jail for his drug offense and had completed his probationary term.

In October 2013, as a result of the ACLU’s lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Michael A. Ponsor ordered that Gordon was entitled to an individual bond hearing. An immigration judge granted him bond, and Gordon was reunited with his family in November 2013. Although a panel of the First Circuit upheld the federal judge’s decision in October 2014, the full court subsequently granted a request by the government to rehear the case.

“This lawsuit asks government officials only to consider releasing Mr. Gordon and others like him on bond, instead of automatically holding them without a bond hearing,” said ACLU of Massachusetts Legal Director Matthew Segal. “The fact that the government decided to release Mr. Gordon and many others after holding individual bond hearings shows that it does not believe that they pose a flight risk or danger justifying detention. It confirms that the overbroad application of mandatory detention causes unwarranted suffering, at great taxpayer expense.”

A group of former Department of Homeland Security officials and former Immigration Judges submitted a brief in support of Gordon and former detainee Leiticia Castaneda, whose case is paired with Gordon’s. The former officials argued that the government’s interpretation of the mandatory detention provision risks ineffectively spending resources by preventing officials from considering release in cases where Congress did not intend to require detention.

“Our laws don’t allow federal officials to lock immigrants up and throw away the key based on old run-ins with the criminal justice system,” said Judy Rabinovitz, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Applying such a harsh detention law to immigrants like Gordon undermines constitutional values, common sense, and the plain language of the law.”

For copies of the filings in the case, go to:

For more information about the ACLU of Massachusetts, go to:

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.

Learn More About the Issues in This Press Release