LOS ANGELES – The federal government sets unreasonable bonds for detained immigrants, including asylum seekers, by failing to consider immigrants’ financial resources or ability to pay, according to a class action lawsuit filed today.
The suit, filed by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) and the national ACLU, seeks to require the government to apply standards similar to those used in criminal cases when it sets bail bonds for immigrants.
“Poverty or lack of financial resources should not deprive a person of his or her freedom while in civil immigration proceedings,” said Michael Kaufman, a staff attorney with ACLU SoCal. “Such detention violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Bail Clause and immigration laws.”
Currently, individuals awaiting trial on criminal charges are entitled to bail. In such cases, judges must consider the person’s ties to the community, the seriousness of the crime and an individual’s financial circumstances when setting bail. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Justice has recently argued in the criminal bail context that “[i]ncarcerating individuals solely because of their inability to pay for their release” is unconstitutional.  A growing consensus of federal courts has come to the same conclusion.
The Department of Homeland Security and immigration judges, however, are not required to consider an immigrant’s financial situation or resources when setting bond for individuals facing deportation or seeking asylum, and routinely do not do so. As a result, many immigrants are ordered release on bond but languish in immigration jails for years because they cannot afford it.
“At a time when state and federal criminal justice systems are moving to reform the fees and financial constraints that unfairly affect low-income individuals, the federal government’s immigration detention practices continue to deprive some immigrants of their liberty because they are poor,” said Michael Tan, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
Cesar Matias, 37, is among those challenging the current bond policy. A native of Honduras, Matias is seeking asylum. He has spent four years locked up in a Santa Ana immigration jail because he lacks the money to post a $3,000 bond. Like Matias, dozens if not hundreds of immigrants in Southern California remain detained, without hope of release, solely because they are too poor to post bond.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court by ACLU SoCal, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, and pro bono attorneys Matthew Sloan, Douglas Smith, Grayce Frink, Devon Hein, Winston Hsiao and Matthew Delgado.
Read the complaint
Sandra Hernandez, 213.977.5247, shernandez@aclusocal.org Julie Gallego, 213.977.5242, jgallego@aclusocal.org