ACLU Sues to Make Bail More Affordable for Illegal Immigrants

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 29: Handcuffs are seen on the hands of a twenty-year old 'Street V
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The government should consider individuals’ financial resources when setting the bond amount for aliens in removal proceedings, the ACLU argues.

In a class lawsuit filed this month, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project say the federal government sets unacceptably high bond amounts for foreign nationals in deportation proceedings because it fails to consider their ability to pay. The result, the ACLU argues, is lengthier incarceration rates for poorer aliens.

The suit names Cesar Matias, a Honduran national fighting deportation by seeking asylum, and Xochitl Hernandez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico convicted of shoplifting, as plaintiffs in the suit. ACLU charges their bail is too high for them to pay and violates their rights. Matias’ bail is $3,000 and Hernandez’s bail is $60,000.

“Poverty or lack of financial resources should not deprive a person of his or her freedom while in civil immigration proceedings,” Michael Kaufman, an ACLU SoCal attorney, said in a statement. “Such detention violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Bail Clause and immigration laws.”

The ACLU further argues that the current trajectory of the criminal justice system has been to move toward fee policies that do not adversely affect lower income defendants, and while immigration proceedings are a civil matter, it says they should reflect the changing times.

“At a time when state and federal criminal justice systems are moving to reform the fees and financial constraints that unfairly affect low-income individuals, the federal government’s immigration detention practices continue to deprive some immigrants of their liberty because they are poor,” added Michael Tan, an ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project attorney.

While the ACLU is pressing for the government to change its policies to allow for the bonded release of more immigrants in removal proceedings, Center for Immigration Studies fellow Dan Cadman says the ACLU’s lawsuit “shouldn’t go anywhere” because regardless of the cost, the intent is to ensure that the alien shows up for court. The problem is, already many aliens in removal proceedings abscond.

“There are already nearly a million aliens on the streets of America today who have absconded from proceedings. That’s right, nearly a million,” Cadman wrote in a post Tuesday at CIS. “That is because many of them realize that losing whatever surety or collateral they put forward is cheap at the price if they can flee and stay hidden long enough. Given a population of more-or-less 12 million illegal aliens — and a shrinking cadre of immigration officers hamstrung by absurdist rules imposed by an administration bent on destroying the fabric of our immigration control system (even as they declare it ‘broken,’ as if their hands were clean) — staying hidden is an easy enough thing to do.”


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