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Federal judge sides with immigrants who say they were unconstitutionally detained



In a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU, a federal judge has ruled that the government’s practice of detaining certain immigrants by default violates their due process.

According to a court filing and ACLU Massachusetts release, the ruling holds that a class of immigrants in New England are entitled to bond hearings at which the government bears the burden of justifying an immigrant’s detention, and at which the immigration court must consider someone’s ability to pay when setting a bond amount.

“In America, liberty should be the norm for everyone—and detention the last resort,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “This decision affirms that the government’s approach to detention is contrary to common sense and our fundamental values. We are thrilled that, as a result of this order, civil rights will be protected and families will be reunited.”

“This victory means that in order to keep an immigrant behind bars in this country, the government must prove why they should be detained—not the other way around,” said SangYeob Kim, immigration staff attorney at the ACLU of New Hampshire. “This lawsuit raised an alarming issue where due process was being denied to those that have the most difficulty accessing counsel and navigating the American immigration system.”

In June, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the ACLU of New Hampshire, and the law firm Mintz filed the lawsuit on behalf of immigrants who were jailed due to hearings in which the detainee was required to bear the burden of proof.

Judge Saris felt it should be the other way around.

As a result of the lawsuit, the three named plaintiffs have been released from detention. In August, a federal judge granted class certification, extending the impact of the lawsuit to potentially hundreds of immigrants in New England.

“We are gratified by Judge Saris’ decision today, which will help to ensure that immigrant individuals who are detained in Massachusetts, or whose cases that are adjudicated here, will get the constitutional and statutory protections they deserve,” said Susan Finegan, Member and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee at Mintz. “The government has systematically deprived these individuals of their liberty without showing a good reason for doing so, and we are proud to play a role in ending this baseless practice.”

The ruling announces a permanent injunction, effective December 13, 2019, that will require the government to bear the burden of proof, and for the immigration court to consider ability to pay, at bond hearings in the Boston Immigration Court, which serves Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The permanent injunction will also require the government to disclose information about people who have already been ordered detained in prior immigration hearings.

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