By Cindy Chang
Detainees are brought for processing in downtown Los Angeles as part of a nationwide roundup of unauthorized immigrants with criminal records. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times / March 30, 2012)
Immigration detainees in Southern California are entitled to a bond hearing after being in custody formore than six months, a federal judge has ruled.
A preliminary injunction granting the bond hearings was already in place. Senior U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter, Jr. made the order permanent Wednesday and established that the hearings be provided automatically rather than only at the detainee’s request.
“It’s a hugely important ruling for immigrants in detention who now have their first opportunity to seek release on bond,” said Michael Kaufman, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California, which represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “They have a time period now, something to look forward to -- they can ask a judge for release and the ability to return to their families and loved ones.”
The decision applies to more than 2,000 detainees in four facilities: Adelanto, James A. Musick, Theo Lacey and the Santa Ana City Jail. On an average day, 400 to 500 detainees had been in custody for more than six months, according to Kaufman.
Alejandro Rodriguez, one of the plaintiffs, was in immigration detention for over three years while fighting his deportation. Two other plaintiffs were detained for over a year.
Before the preliminary injunction, immigrants who were caught as they entered the country did not receive bond hearings, though some were released through an administrative parole process. Some detainees with criminal records were also held without bond hearings. Immigrants without criminal records who were picked up within U.S. borders did receive hearings.
In an April 2013 opinion, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals noted that 400 bond hearings had been conducted since the preliminary injunction took effect a few months earlier, with about two-thirds of detainees obtaining release.
Government attorneys have argued that the hearings will strain resources and that detention should be mandatory for criminal detainees. The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“This injunction will not flood our streets with fearsome criminals seeking to escape the force of American immigration law,” Judge Kim Wardlaw of the 9th Circuit wrote in the April opinion.
Without bond hearings, Wardlaw added, detainees could end up in a “prison-like setting where they might otherwise languish for months or years on end.”
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