SEATTLE (CN) - A federal judge Monday certified a class of immigrants who were jailed because they cannot post bonds, and ordered immigration judges in Seattle and Tacoma to consider conditional parole rather than bonds.
Honduras native Maria Sandra Rivera was jailed in an immigration prison last year after entering the country illegally. Immigration and Customs Enforcement set a $7,500 bond for her in June, and Rivera sought a custody redetermination hearing.
An immigration judge reduced Rivera's bond to $3,500 after declaring that she was "somewhat" of a flight risk. Rivera could not pay the bond and was jailed for five months.
Rivera sued the Justice Department as a proposed federal class action, claiming immigration judges in Seattle and Tacoma uniformly deny conditional parole requests.
She sought an order declaring the policy illegal and ordering the defendants to provide bond hearings to immigrants.
Defendants included the directors of the Justice Department's Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Seattle ICE Field Office, the warden of the Northwest Detention Center and the Secretary of Homeland Security.
The government argued Rivera had no standing to bring a class action because she was detained for just five months, which was not a "prolonged detention."
U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik disagreed.
"While the government may have had six months before it was obliged to give plaintiff a bond hearing, the court fails to see how an alien's detention remains presumptively reasonable after the government has given her a bond hearing to determine whether she should be detained," Lasnik wrote.
The judge concluded that Rivera had standing, and that regardless of how long an immigrant has been detained after a defective bond hearing, he or she can immediately challenge the hearing.
The certified class will consist of immigrants with bonds set above the statutory minimum who are detained after having a bond imposed that they cannot pay.
Lasnik also ordered immigration judges in Seattle and Tacoma to consider granting conditional parole rather than monetary bonds at bond hearings.
He also ordered the defendants to submit to the court a list of immigrants who are detained in cases like Rivera's, and for the parties to submit proposals for bond rehearings by June 5.
Rivera was represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
For decades immigration bonds have varied wildly from district to district, from judge to judge and sometimes from day to day.
Immigration judges in Laredo may release immigrants on their own recognizance, while up and down the Rio Grande, in Brownsville or El Paso, they are held under bonds of $2,500 to $7,500 or more.
The bond policies, if they can be called that, often seem to be set from Washington, D.C. by political exigencies rather than law or regulation, longtime immigration attorneys agree.
The most recent such "policy" change was when the Obama administration began imprisoning women and children after Republican congressmen and then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry complained that they were "flooding" across the border.