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Court Guarantees Hearings for Detained Immigrants with Felonies

Asian Journal

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in California can no longer detain undocumented immigrants convicted of felonies for extended periods without bond, thanks to a federal ruling issued Tuesday, August 4.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down the practice of mandatory detention for anyone found guilty of a felony.

The policy permitted ICE agents to imprison some people for months without providing them with a bond hearing. The ruling delivered by Judge Jacqueline Nguyen will apply in California, where 20 percent of all immigration detentions occur, as well as eight other states and two territories within the court’s jurisdiction.

“A broad and incorrect interpretation of federal law…denied [detainees] the opportunity to challenge [their] detention,” representatives at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California said in a statement released earlier this month.

A felony conviction would have been grounds for mandatory detention regardless of how long ago it occurred, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs in the class action suit.

In her ruling, Nguyen decried what she called “robotic detention procedures” and said mandatory imprisonment “smacks of injustice.”

One of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, Ashok Ramani of the law firm Keker & Van Nest, told the Asian Journal that many of those held for months by immigration officials had moved on from their pasts and become productive members of their communities.

“They all had jobs. They had families. Some were taking care of elderly relatives,” said Ramani of the clients represented by his firm, the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project (IRP), and Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “[Mandatory detention] disrupted all of that.”

Ramani said at least two plaintiffs from California had been granted bond hearings and released prior to the court’s decision because a ruling from an earlier case in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals guarantees detainees a day in court within six months. Most other jurisdictions do not host similar provisions.

According to Ramani, between 800 to 1,000 people will now have a chance to petition a judge for their freedom.

“[The court’s] decision is a victory for fairness and due process of law,” said Michael Tan, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s IRP. “In America, everyone should get a chance to see a judge before their freedom is taken away.”

On August 4, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the ruling in Mony Preap et al. v. Johnson. The class action successfully challenged the federal government’s practice in California of detaining certain immigrants without bond, often for many months, while they face deportation proceedings. Today’s ruling means thousands of California’s immigrants may now make an individualized case against their detention, thereby safeguarding families and correcting an injustice.