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Good news for detained immigrants

September 15, 2012|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Detained immigrants at the Mira Loma Immigration Detention Center in Lancaster.
Detained immigrants at the Mira Loma Immigration Detention Center in Lancaster. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

A federal judge in Los Angeles on Thursday ordered federal officials to provide a hearing to immigrants detained across the Los Angeles area to determine if they should be released on bond while they fight their deportation cases.

U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter’s preliminary injunction will ensure that immigrants who are detained for six months or longer, including asylum seekers, don’t just languish in immigration jails without having a judge review whether they can be released while their cases are pending.

Unlike defendants in criminal cases, who are guaranteed the right to a bail hearing in court, immigrants in civil cases often don’t go before judges to determine if they are eligible for bond. Federal law requires that  immigrants be detained if they are considered a flight risk, a danger to the community or for certain crimes that require mandatory detention. 

Hatter's ruling is sensible and fair. The federal government has authority to detain and deport immigrants,  but it also has a responsibility to ensure that immigrants aren't subject to prolonged detention without court review. This is especially important given that immigrants in detention are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney, and often have no legal help even in cases in which they are seeking asylum.

Surely some will argue that this is another attempt to grant amnesty or make it easier for undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. That ignores several things. First, that the ruling involves some immigrants who are here legally and may have committed a low-level offense that requires detention but ultimately may not be a deportable offense. Second, it also applies to asylum seekers. And finally, judges will still retain the authority to deny bond to an immigrant.

There’s also a cost argument to be made for requiring review. It costs upward of $120 a day to detain an immigrant. By contrast, the price tag of an electronic ankle monitor is upward of $15 a day. Judges can release immigrants on bond and require they wear monitors to ensure they show up in court.

The lawsuit was filed by American Civil Liberties Union in 2010. The trial date has not yet been set.

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