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Federal Appeals Court Tells Obama Administration to Stop Imprisoning Immigrants for No Reason

Eunice Lee,
Detention Attorney,
ACLU, Immigrants' Rights Project
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October 8, 2014

A federal appeals court sent a clear message to the Obama administration this week: stop locking away immigrants without bond based on old criminal convictions.

The court on Tuesday held that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) broke the law when it picked up ACLU client Clayton Gordon on his way to work one day last year and locked him away without a bond hearing. ICE misapplied so-called “mandatory” detention to Mr. Gordon – a lawful permanent resident who has lived here for over 30 years and has served in the U.S. Army – based on a single, drug conviction that he served one day in jail for in 2008.

By the time ICE encountered Mr. Gordon in June 2013, 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. But none of this factored into ICE’s decision, and no judge had an opportunity to consider these factors for release until ACLU sued on behalf of Mr. Gordon and others like him.

Instead, the government took the shameful position that the U.S. army veteran had no right to a bond hearing at all.

Thankfully, the court disagreed. Noting the “harsh consequences of uprooting these individuals from the community,” the court held that people who have returned to their families and rebuilt their lives, such as Mr. Gordon, must be able to ask a judge for release.

This is basic due process, as well as common sense.

As the court observed, “those who have resided in the community for years after release cannot reasonably be presumed either to be dangerous or flight risks. This is particularly so given the breadth of offenses to which [mandatory detention] applies, and the inclusion of offenses such as non-violent drug possession.”

In other words, it’s not okay to imprison people without bond when they don’t need to be locked away. In fact, it’s unconstitutional and immoral. Not to mention wasteful. After Mr. Gordon finally got his bond hearing earlier this year, the immigration judge immediately ordered his release on bond. He’s now back living peacefully with his family.

You have to ask yourself: What, exactly, did we spend tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money and waste months of Mr. Gordon’s life for?

Fortunately there’s an easy solution. Just give immigrants a bond hearing and the due process everyone deserves.

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