Immigrants Denied Bail

The American Civil Liberties Union recently announced their intent to file a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, alleging that the county has unlawfully denied bail to thousands of people.

Federal law allows local officials to hold detained persons for up to forty-eight hours at the request of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, under the Secure Communities program. Secure Communities takes fingerprints from each person who is arrested and runs them through an immigration database, to verify whether the person is an immigrant and, if so, if there is any sort of federal hold on that person. If so, the person may be held in jail without bail for an indefinite period. According to the Los Angeles Times, Sheriff Lee Baca has used this program to deny bail across the board for any individuals that ICE wanted to have held. Records released by the department show that the number of these holds in 2011 alone was more than 20,000 inmates. Los Angeles County is not alone in this behavior – at least seventeen other counties in California will detain an immigrant without bail indefinitely, at the request of the federal government.

ACLU Claims Los Angeles Illegally Denied Bail to Immigrants

There are five plaintiffs in the suit, including Duncan Roy, a British filmmaker. Roy claims to have been arrested due to an argument with his former partner, a real estate agent in Malibu, arising out of a property deal that fell through. Roy alleges that he spent three months in jail, despite repeatedly offering to post a bond of $35,000 to gain his release and ensure his appearance in court. Roy refused to plead guilty to a felony to get out of jail. Conviction of a felony can lead to immediate deportation. Finally, Roy was released after ICE withdrew the immigration detainer. All plaintiffs claim that the sole reason they were denied bail was that the federal government requested immigration holds. The bail denials were not based on flight risk or possible danger to the community, which are common reasons for denying bail.

The ACLU would like to have the suit turned into a class action brought on behalf of all immigrants illegally detained in this manner. ACLU attorney Jennie Pasquarella argues that the Secure Communities program violates the right to due process. “There has to be authority for them to actually deprive a person of liberty, and we’re saying there isn’t based on state and federal law.” The ACLU points out that, if an inmate posted bail or qualified for release on his own recognizance, ICE would still have the ability to approach those who posed a danger and take them into custody. Such a policy would protect the civil rights of the accused, without inhibiting federal immigration officials. The suit seeks damages for the five named plaintiffs, plus an injunction prohibiting the sheriff from detaining someone solely due to an immigration hold. The Sheriff’s Department has recently agreed to implement a policy allowing individuals with an immigration detainer to post bail.

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