In a 41-page injunction released late Thursday, federal Judge Jesus G. Bernal ordered the U.S. government to implement reforms to the immigration bond system that are roughly the same as the constitutional requirements for criminal cases. Immigration judges must now consider whether or not someone awaiting deportation proceedings can afford to pay a bond.
“This important ruling recognizes that no person, regardless of immigration status, should be locked up merely because he or she is poor, and will help to put an end to the government’s unnecessary detention of immigrants who present no risk to the community,” ACLU of Southern California staff attorney Michael Kauffman said in a statement.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of SoCal, the national ACLU, and pro bono attorneys from a powerful New York City firm on behalf of immigrants stuck in detention facilities for years simply because they can't afford to bond out.
As the national ACLU's Michael Tan writes, "Imprisoning people because they’re poor — whether citizens or immigrants — violates our fundamental commitments to due process and equal protection. Indeed, the Department of Justice has argued that locking up criminal defendants “because of their inability to pay for their release” is unconstitutional."
In his ruling, Judge Bernal also granted the lawsuit class action status, including immigrants in the federal court district who have had a bond set but not been able to pay it.
Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.