Federal Judge Orders U.S. to Reform Immigration Bond in Ruling on ACLU Lawsuit

LOS ANGELES, CA, Nov. 14, 2016 – A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction ordering U.S. officials to implement substantial reforms in their system for setting bail bonds to ensure that immigrants are not detained merely based on their poverty.

The ruling, issued late Thursday by Judge Jesus G. Bernal of U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, orders the federal government to comply with constitutional requirements similar to those used in criminal cases when it sets bail bonds for immigrants. Specifically, the ruling requires that when setting a bond, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and immigration judges must consider the detainee’s financial ability to pay a bond, limit it to an amount needed to ensure that the detainee will return to court and consider alternatives to bail such as supervised release.

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“This important ruling recognizes that no person, regardless of immigration status, should be locked up merely because he or she is poor, and will help to put an end to the government’s unnecessary detention of immigrants who present no risk to the community,” said Michael Kaufman, the Sullivan & Cromwell Access to Justice staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal).

The ruling comes in response to Hernandez v. Lynch, a lawsuit filed in April by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the national ACLU and pro bono attorneys from Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP on behalf of detainees in Southern California who languished in immigration jails, in some cases for years, because they could not afford the exorbitant bond amounts routinely set by ICE and immigration judges.

Among the plaintiffs named in the suit is Cesar Matias, 37, a native of Honduras who is seeking asylum. He spent more than four years locked up in a Santa Ana immigration jail because he lacked the money to post a $3,000 bond. Like Matias, dozens, if not hundreds, of immigrants in Southern California remain detained, without hope of release, solely because they are too poor to post bond.

“The court’s ruling reaffirms that all people in this country—citizens and immigrants alike—are entitled to due process and equal protection of the laws,” said Michael Tan, staff attorney of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Those rights are what make America great, and the ACLU is here to fight for them.”

In the ruling, Judge Bernal also denied the government’s motion to dismiss the case and granted the plaintiff’s motion for class certification. The certified class includes noncitizens in the Central District who have had a bond set by an ICE official or an immigration judge, but remain detained—a group that can number more than 100 people on any given day.

“By granting certification of a class, Judge Bernal’s ruling recognizes that global reforms are necessary to safeguard the constitutional rights of thousands of immigrants who, absent reform, will remain locked up and separated from their families solely because they are too poor to pay their bonds,” said Doug Smith, a litigation attorney with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in Los Angeles. “The certification ruling also recognizes that bail bonds for immigration detainees should be determined under fair and consistent standards for all.”

Read the ruling