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Coast to Coast, Federal Courts Say NO to Mandatory Lock-up of Immigrants

Eunice Lee,
Detention Attorney,
ACLU, Immigrants' Rights Project
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May 22, 2014

The tide is turning against U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE)’s policy of picking up our community members and locking them away without a hearing.

Coast to coast, federal courts are saying “no” to this unjust and irrational practice.

Yesterday, a federal judge in an ACLU case ordered ICE to “immediately cease and desist” its unlawful practice of denying a bond hearing to people detained throughout Massachusetts based on crimes that are typically minor – like shoplifting or drug possession – and that occurred years ago. Judge Ponsor ruled that immigrants who are picked up by ICE after returning to their lives, their families, their jobs, and their communities must be given a chance to ask an immigration judge for their release. He explained, “An individual’s right to the due process is not eradicated simply because he or she has been convicted of a crime at some point in his or her life.”

Our Massachusetts victory comes on the heels of another ACLU class action win on the other side of the country. Last week in Preap v. Beers, Judge Gonzales Rogers required ICE to give bond hearings to people picked up by ICE in their communities throughout the state of California.

And before that in another ACLU case, Khoury v. Asher, a judge reached the same conclusion for community members in western Washington state. There, too, ICE must now stop picking up people in their workplaces and homes and putting them in no-bond detention.

Under our immigration laws, lock-up without a bond hearing applies only to a narrow group of people who are taken in by ICE immediately after serving sentences for certain crimes. ICE, however, unlawfully applies this draconian form of detention to people picked up months or years after the fact. It thus locked away Richard Clayton Gordon—the lead plaintiff in our Massachusetts case and a U.S. army veteran—for a single stale drug conviction.

That conviction is now six years old.

At the time ICE encountered Mr. Gordon, he had returned to his family, gotten engaged, had a child, bought a house, and started plans to build a halfway house for his community. He also had no subsequent run-ins with the law whatsoever. And yet, ICE still put him in jail and denied him a bond hearing.

Fortunately, thanks to ACLU’s victories, immigrants picked up by ICE in their communities must now be given the basic due process of a bond hearing. There, they can ask an immigration judge to decide whether they ever needed to be locked up in the first place. If the answer is no, the immigration judge must – and in Mr. Gordon’s case did – order their release from unnecessary and unfair ICE detention.

It’s a shame that it took a federal lawsuit to secure Mr. Gordon’s release. People like him simply shouldn’t be locked away without first seeing a judge – a cornerstone of our democracy. Now in Washington, California, and Massachusetts, they can’t be. It’s time for the Obama administration to listen to the courts as well as to its conscience and end its unlawful practice nationwide.

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