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Latino Daily News

Thursday August 18, 2011

ACLU Sues Over Shackling of Non-Violent Immigration Detainees

ACLU Sues Over Shackling of Non-Violent Immigration Detainees

Photo: ACLU to Stop Schackling of Immigration Detainees

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (Lawyers’ Committee), and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (WSGR) filed a class action suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) on behalf of adult immigration detainees, all of whom appear in immigration court shackled at the wrists, waist, and ankles, regardless of their history or capacity for disruption.

“Freedom from physical restraint during court proceedings has been recognized since the eighteenth century as a fundamental right. But you don’t have to be a scholar to know that shackling a woman in belly chains and leg irons for passing a bad check is unnecessary and inhumane,” said Julia Harumi Mass, Staff Attorney for the ACLU-NC. “Physical restraints are meant for those who pose significant risk to themselves or others. Shackling immigrant detainees in court violates the law and core American values of fair and decent treatment for all persons. There’s a big difference between Hannibal Lecter and your neighbor’s nanny.”

All adult detainees are shackled for the duration of immigration court proceedings in San Francisco. There are no existing legal channels to challenge application of the practice based on individual risk level, potential for flight or medical care needs. People are held in immigration detention for a variety of reasons, including because they could not raise the money to post bond, ICE or court officials believe they pose a flight risk or other possible danger, detention is mandatory under federal immigration law, or they are not eligible for bond because they have committed a crime of “moral turpitude,” such as passing a bad check.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco by four individuals on behalf of a class of people who are or will be detained for their immigration proceedings in San Francisco. The suit calls for replacement of ICE’s blanket policy on shackling detainees in San Francisco immigration court with a case-by-case policy that would protect due process rights while maintaining ICE’s ability to use restraints as needed for individuals who pose a true security threat.

ICE runs the largest civil detention program and supervised release program in the country, with more than 31,000 immigrants in detention at more than 300 facilities throughout the nation. In theory, ICE places a high priority on the removal of dangerous persons with criminal convictions. In practice, as of October 2009, only 51% of the detained immigrants had felony convictions, of which only 11 percent had committed violent crimes. 

The number of people in immigration custody has grown exponentially in recent years. From 2006 to 2009, the number of non-criminal versus criminal detainees grew by 64% to 383,524 people from 233,417. The growth is due in part to a broader set of enforcement strategies that trigger immigration holds by ICE, and to an expansion in the funding and number of federal programs designed to detect undocumented residents.

ICE’s 2009 report noted that despite the rapid growth of immigration detention generally, the number of convicted criminals located and detained had barely increased.