ACLU Files Class Action Lawsuit Against DHS: Thousands Are Incarcerated For Months In Remote Facilities Waiting To See A Judge
Cheryl Alethia Phelps / ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties
The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties (“San Diego ACLU”), Fish & Richardson P.C., and the Law Offices of Leonard B. Simon P.C. filed a class action lawsuit in federal court yesterday against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. The suit seeks to end the excessive delays depriving civil immigration detainees of due process and prompt judicial review.
Every day, immigration agencies incarcerate tens of thousands of longtime U.S. residents, victims of persecution, and others in remote detention centers, ripped from their families and without access to legal support. None are serving time for a crime – and no judge has determined that there is probable cause to detain them – yet they are held in these deplorable detention facilities while they pursue legal avenues to remain in the U.S.
In San Diego and Imperial Counties, these detainees can languish for months before they are brought before a judge just to begin their case and learn for the first time why they are being incarcerated, what they can do to help present their case, or whether they can take steps to seek their release and get back to their loved ones.
“These medieval policies wreak havoc on our immigrant communities,” said Bardis Vakili, senior staff attorney with the San Diego ACLU. “Physical liberty is a bedrock right protected by the Constitution. It cannot be taken away with no judicial oversight. This level of disregard for basic constitutional safeguards is reminiscent of our government’s decision to open internment camps during World War II. It’s an injustice that threatens to leave a similar scar on a new generation of American families.”
With the Trump administration promising to expand detention facilities and deport millions of more people, delays in immigration courts are likely to get longer and will create further stress on the system.
“This administration has promised to double down on an immigration detention system that is flawed at its core,” said Len Simon of the Law Offices of Leonard B. Simon P.C. “The U.S. Constitution prohibits warehousing people for months without seeing a judge. This lawsuit is necessary to fix this problem before it gets even worse.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three clients currently detained in local facilities, including an 18-year-old high school senior who is eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a mother of two U.S. citizen children who has lived in the U.S. for many years, and a man who claims to be a U.S. citizen. They have been detained for weeks or months, but none have seen a judge. The lawsuit contends they are representative of a class of all detainees in DHS custody in the Southern District of California for longer than 48 hours who have not been brought before a judge nor received a judicial determination of probable cause to justify their detention.
“It betrays core American values to lock someone up without bringing them promptly to a judge,” said Craig Countryman, an attorney with Fish and Richardson P.C. “The government has no legitimate interest in blocking people who may be eligible for bond and pose no safety threat from seeing a judge who can neutrally evaluate their case and determine whether they have been wrongly imprisoned.”
On any given day, the two main detention facilities in the region – the Otay Detention Facility and the Imperial Regional Detention Facility – warehouse about 1,500 people in civil immigration detention. Detainees at these facilities typically wait one to three months just for their first hearing, but many wait even longer.