Federal Court Rules Class Action Lawsuit Challenging Prolonged Detention Of Immigrants Can Go Forward

August 20, 2009 12:00 am

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PASADENA, CA – A federal appeals court in California today ruled that a lawsuit filed on behalf of immigrants who have been detained for more than six months without receiving bond hearings can go forward as a class action. The immigrants are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the ACLU, the Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic and the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP.

“This is a huge victory for immigrants who have been held in prolonged, indefinite detention without the most basic element of due process – a hearing to determine if their detention is justified,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, Director of Immigrants’ Rights and National Security for the ACLU of Southern California, who argued the case before the Ninth Circuit. “There have been many good decisions invalidating prolonged immigration detention in individual instances, but the government has not been following them in other cases. Because the court has allowed the case to go forward as a class action, many detainees – the overwhelming majority of whom lack legal representation – will be able to benefit from the court’s final decision.”

The lawsuit, Rodriguez et al. v. Hayes et al., was originally filed in a federal district court in Los Angeles in May 2007 on behalf of Alejandro Rodriguez, an immigrant from Mexico who was detained more than three years pending completion of his removal proceedings without ever receiving a bond hearing. In the lawsuit, Rodriguez asked for a hearing to determine if his prolonged detention was justified and to represent other similarly situated immigrants in the Central District of California. A district court in California ruled that it did not have jurisdiction to grant a class action. The ACLU appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in April 2008.

The Ninth Circuit, disagreeing with the government’s claims, found that it had clear jurisdiction to allow the lawsuit to go forward as a class action and that a class action would provide a remedy for immigration detainees who are unrepresented. The court explained that without class certification, “many of the putative class members likely would not be able to adjudicate their claimed need of a bond hearing,” and that class treatment was “likely necessary to provide the remedy sought.”

On an average day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security detains roughly 33,400 non-citizens in federal detention facilities and local jails across the country, resulting in more than a threefold increase in the detention population since just a decade ago. In the Central District of California alone, hundreds of detainees each year are subjected to prolonged immigration detention while they fight their immigration cases.

“Many individuals in immigration detention pose no danger or flight risk that requires them to be locked up,” said Judy Rabinovitz, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Yet they are deprived of their liberty, often for prolonged periods of time, without even a bond hearing to determine if such detention is justified. This violates due process, results in many individuals forfeiting meritorious claims, causes families financial and emotional hardship and is a huge drain on taxpayers’ money.”

“We’re hopeful that the Obama administration will now agree that people incarcerated for years should receive the basic due process protection of a hearing,” Rabinovitz added.

Over the past few years, the ACLU has filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of individual immigrants who have been held for prolonged periods of time while fighting their immigration cases, winning the release of more than a dozen individuals who were being unlawfully detained.

Lawyers on the case include Rabinovitz and Cecillia D. Wang of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Arulanantham and Peter Eliasberg of the ACLU of Southern California, Jayashri Srikantiah of the Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, and Steven A. Ellis, William Tran and Brian K. Washington of Sidley Austin LLP.

More information on the case, including the court’s opinion and ACLU legal briefs, can be found online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/detention/40794res20070516.html

The ACLU Web page on prolonged detention of immigrants, “No End in Sight: Immigrants Locked up for Years without Hearings,” can be found online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/review/39906res20090617.html

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