On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court is slated to consider whether people held in immigrant detention facilities have a right to bond hearings, which means the potential for release.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Jennings v. Rodriguez that immigrant detainees subjected to noncitizen mandatory detention for six months or more must be granted a bond hearing, even if they have been convicted of crimes.
The ACLU brought the original class action lawsuit on behalf of around 1000 immigrants held indefinitely in federal detention centers for minor—and often very old—crimes. Most were legal residents who committed crimes that are grounds for deportation. Others were guilty of re-crossing the border after a deportation.
Those convicted had to complete sentences for the actual crime before moving to immigration detention. In at least half the cases, the crimes committed did not carry more than a six month sentence.
Many of the Jennings v. Rodriguez plaintiffs were held in detention for many months—even years.
“The people who have the strongest claims for staying in the U.S. end up staying in detention longest because they have the incentive to stick it out,” the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights attorney Michael Tan told VICE. “The people who don’t have a case get deported right away.”
During bond hearings, immigration judges determine whether detainees would pose a flight risk or endanger the public if released while they await deportation proceedings.
In Los Angeles area cases, judges found 70% of the men and women who requested bond hearings to be eligible for release, according to the ACLU.
On average, the plaintiffs in the Jennings case, who “have strong claims to lawful status” are five times more likely to triumph over their deportation cases than other detainees, says the ACLU.
Alejandro Rodriguez, the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, was a legal permanent resident when he was convicted of joyriding at age 19, and later, misdemeanor drug possession. These crimes triggered mandatory detention for Rodriguez, who waited for more than three years without going before a judge for a bond hearing. Rodriguez ultimately won his immigration case. Unfortunately, in the process, he lost years with his two children and his job as a dental assistant.
Warren Joseph, another plaintiff, was injured in the Gulf War while serving in the US Army. Joseph was honored for rescuing his fellow soldiers. Joseph struggled to reintegrate into his community after service. In 2001, he was arrested for buying a handgun for people to whom he owed money. Joseph, a legal permanent resident from Trinidad, was put on probation and got his life back on track. Then Joseph moved in with his mother without telling his probation officer, and was sentenced to six months behind bars. After his prison term, Joseph spent another three-and-a-half years in an immigration facility. He never received a bail hearing. Joseph also eventually won his deportation case and became a US citizen.
(For more on the issue of indefinite detention, head over to KPCC, and listen to AirTalk host Larry Mantle discuss the case before the Supreme Court with SoCal ACLU attorney Michael Kaufman and Jessica Vaughan, the Center for Immigration Studies’ Director of Policy Studies.)