Saturday, October 20, 2012

ACLU sues LA County sheriff for allegedly denying bail to arrestees on immigration holds

Guilty until proven innocent?

Arrestees who say they were denied bail because immigration agents wanted them held sued the Los Angeles County sheriff Friday claiming they were illegally detained for weeks or months.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed the lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles challenging Sheriff Lee Baca’s ability to detain arrestees solely on the basis of a request from the federal immigration agency, when the inmates are eligible for bail or other forms of release.

Plaintiff Duncan Roy — a British film director — said he was held in jail for nearly three months because Immigration and Customs Enforcement had filed paperwork asking the Sheriff’s Department to keep him in custody, even though he tried multiple times to post bail.

“The sheriff says, he’s on an ICE hold, and the ICE people say, well, he’s got to make bond,” said Roy, who was eventually released after ICE withdrew its request, known as an immigration detainer, or hold. “They keep you in this limbo where each is blaming the other organization, but basically they’re colluding with each other to keep you there.”

Roy, who later pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor extortion charge, is one of several named plaintiffs among tens of thousands of inmates who should have been eligible for release but were detained because the department says it must honor the immigration holds, according to the ACLU.

ACLU staff attorney Jennie Pasquarella said the suit — which seeks class-action status — challenges the validity of immigration detainers, which have been increasingly used in jails across the country under the federal government’s flagship immigration enforcement program.

“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,” Pasquarella said.

Inmates should be allowed to leave custody if they post bail or qualify for release, then federal immigration authorities could seek to take them into custody if they so choose, immigrant advocates said.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said the department may hold people at the request of federal immigration authorities.  “If ICE tells us there’s a hold, we’re only doing what they wish,” Nishida said, adding that the detainers are usually placed for 48 hours but could go longer depending on the case.

ICE said in a statement that the agency uses detainers to ensure that potentially dangerous criminals are not released from jails. On its website, the agency says that if immigration agents fail to take custody of an inmate after 48 hours, excluding weekends and holidays, local law enforcement agencies are required to release the inmate.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction ordering the sheriff not to detain anyone solely on the basis of an immigration hold, and damages for plaintiffs who were unlawfully held. In the suit, the ACLU states the Sheriff’s Department recently agreed to put forth a policy clarifying that inmates should be able to post bail even if they have an immigration detainer.

The federal government’s Secure Communities program lets immigration agents check arrestees’ fingerprints against homeland security records to determine if someone might be in the country illegally.

In the past four years, immigration agents have removed more than 220,000 people from the country under the program. Roughly 12 percent of them came from Los Angeles County, according to federal government statistics.


Cuba's immigration reform casts spotlight on decades-old U.S. law

Cuba's decision this week to make it easier to leave and enter the country is unlikely in the short term to prompt a sudden exodus, but could result in a rethinking of preferential treatment Cuban migrants have long received in the United States.

Alarmed by the number of Cubans arriving in Miami for economic reasons, rather than the political causes that prompted earlier waves of migration from the island, even some Cuban exiles are increasingly questioning a decades-old law that has guaranteed Cubans safe haven in the United States.

The Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act of 1966 was passed during the Lyndon Johnson administration to adjust the status of some 300,000 Cubans who found themselves in legal limbo after fleeing Cuba's socialist revolution of 1959, arriving in the United States on temporary refugee visas.

The law was unusual, as it did not require the Cubans to make a case for political asylum, and automatically granted them entry and the path to permanent residency.

Nor did it envisage a cut-off date. In those early days, most Cubans - as well as U.S. policy-makers - never imagined the exodus would continue for decades, since they were convinced the communist government led by Fidel Castro would not last.  The law has remained on the books ever since, giving Cubans a uniquely privileged immigration status, rivaled only by Hungarians in 1956.

"In all candor, it's anachronistic. The law really doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense today," said Jose Azel at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

Under new rules announced on Tuesday, Cubans will no longer need to obtain a special exit visa to travel abroad, and will need only a passport.

But most Cubans, who earn barely $25 a month on state salaries, will still face huge financial hurdles in order to travel, and opposition activists may still be banned.

U.S. officials say the new Cuban migration rules will not affect existing visa programs for Cubans seeking to travel to the United States.

"I think the question becomes whether more Cubans desire to travel and are applying for visas. ... So obviously, we need to see how it affects the flow of travel," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Tuesday.

The United States already accepts about 20,000 Cubans annually via a heavily oversubscribed immigration lottery, as well as thousands more under special programs for family members seeking reunification, and political asylum cases.


No comments:

Post a Comment