ACLU Files Class Action Over SoCal Immigrant Detentions

SAN DIEGO (CN) – San Diego’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class action lawsuit in federal court claiming immigrants being held in local detention centers for months on end are denied their due process rights.

According to the ACLU, the long detentions result from delays in initial immigration hearings.

The civil rights group also claims the Department of Homeland Security violates the Fourth Amendment with its pattern and practice of detaining people without seeking judicial review of probable cause promptly after the arrest.

Bardis Vakili, senior staff attorney with the San Diego ACLU, called the lengthy detentions “medieval polices.”

“Physical liberty is a bedrock right protected by the Constitution,” he said in a statement. “It cannot be taken away with no judicial oversight. This level of disregard for basic constitutional safeguards is reminiscent of our government’s decision to open internment camps during World War II.  It’s an injustice that threatens to leave a similar scar on a new generation of American families.”

Three immigrants currently detained in the Southern District of California are spearheading the case, which was filed Thursday. The class representatives include an 18-year-old high school senior who is eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; a mother of two U.S. citizens who has lived in the U.S. for years; and a man who claims to be a U.S. citizen.

The detainees wear color-coded prison uniforms and are confined to a “pod” or “unit” of 60 to 80 other people. They are allowed daily limited “yard” time in a concrete patio enclosed by concrete walls at least 20 feet high, according to the 26-page complaint.

Immigrants detained in the Southern District are held at two detention centers operated by Immigrations and Custom Enforcement: the Otay Detention Facility and the Imperial Regional Detention Facility. On any given day, the two facilities confine about 1,500 immigrants, according to the ACLU.

The ACLU says DHS does not take into proper consideration the immigration court’s ability to commence and process cases promptly. It takes no responsibility for presenting detainees to the court in a timely manner or for the fact that cases involving detained persons must proceed on an expedited docket.

The initial appearance is vital for detainees to get access to information related to their cases, and it is the first time they can request a bond hearing, which, if granted, must be scheduled at the earliest possible date.

The first hearing also gives unrepresented detainees the opportunity to add their names to a list that is handed out to pro bono legal organizations.

In addition, ICE attorneys and immigration judges interact with detainees for the first time at these initial appearances, which can reveal if an immigrant has mental health issues that require special accommodations.

Delaying a detained immigrant’s initial court appearance brings with it the “significant” risk of an erroneous detention, the ACLU claims. Timely hearings would reduce this risk.

The ACLU seeks declaratory, injunctive and habeas corpus relief to prevent immigration authorities from detaining people for an “unreasonable period” while they await a court hearing.

DHS does not comment on pending litigation.

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