Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Judge Expands Immigration Bond Hearing Ruling in WIRAC Lawsuit

The Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC) at Yale Law School recently secured another victory when Judge Michael A. Ponsor ’74 of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must provide bond hearings to detained immigrants while their deportation hearings are being appealed.

The December 10, 2014 order clarified a prior ruling, stating that immigration detainees held for six months or longer because of a specified criminal conviction — even those who have received a final order of removal — qualify for a bond hearing.

“This was a major victory because many of the immigrants who have been detained the longest are in later stages of appeal and weren’t getting bond hearings even though Judge Ponsor had previously ordered them,” said Swapna Reddy ’16, who has been working closely on the case for the past year. “It’s very common for immigrants to be detained for at least one year if not two or more.”

The case began in July 2013 when plaintiff Mark Reid, a Connecticut resident then detained by ICE in western Massachusetts and who is represented by WIRAC, filed a lawsuit challenging his prolonged detention. The latest development comes nearly a year after Judge Ponsor granted Reid’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus; ordered a bond hearing be held in his case1; and certified a class of detained immigrants who were facing a similar situation2. The case pertains specifically to immigrants who were held in Massachusetts for six months or longer, including many who come from Connecticut and Rhode Island.

On May 27, 2014, Judge Ponsor granted summary judgment to the class and entered an injunction requiring ICE to determine bond for all class members and to provide bond hearings for those who wished to challenge the bond determination.3

Following Judge Ponsor’s order in May, ICE took the position that only those individuals who had not yet received final orders of removal from an Immigration Judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals were eligible for relief, and thus refused to determine bond for any detainees pursuing further appeals.

Now that this clarification has been made, Reddy said many immigrants are being informed that they have a right to a bond hearing for the first time, including those whom ICE transferred from Massachusetts to out-of-state detention facilities. In his December order, Judge Ponsor also directed enhanced notice be provided to class members, which has improved the ability of clinic students to locate additional members of the class who could benefit from these changes.

“The government has access to every immigrant’s detention record, but we do not. We cannot identify all of our class members without the government’s assistance, though we have tried to identify class members by visiting jails and speaking with detainees one by one,” said Reddy.

The latest ruling has opened the door to negotiations between the government and students from WIRAC about how to obtain these records and how class counsel can best be apprised of future bond hearings.

While the rulings are effective immediately, the government has appealed Judge Ponsor’s orders granting Mr. Reid’s habeas petition and summary judgment for the class to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. WIRAC and its co-counsel at WilmerHale (including Anant Saraswat ’09, a WIRAC alumnus, and Rebecca Izzo ’13, an LSO alumna) and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project (including Michael Tan ’08, another WIRAC alumnus, and Ahilan Arulanantham ’99) have also cross-appealed the case, seeking additional procedural protections related to bond hearings.

“This case could be a step toward the provision of such bond hearings nationally,” said Reddy, noting that with the exception of Massachusetts and a similar case in the Ninth Circuit, there are virtually no bond hearings provided to ICE detainees facing prolonged detention of this nature in other parts of the country.

Students working on behalf of WIRAC said that the protections that have been secured through this case are important because prolonged detention causes great disruptions to the lives of their clients.

“We are not asking for a bond hearing on day one. We are asking for a bond hearing six months after our clients have been detained,” said Reddy. “Prolonged detention not only has a negative impact on the person being detained, but on everyone who relies on them, including spouses, children, and coworkers.”

The Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC), part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, represents immigrants and low-wage workers in Connecticut in labor, immigration, and other civil rights areas, through litigation for individuals and non-litigation advocacy for community-based organizations.

Anyone who thinks they are entitled to or know someone who may be entitled to a bond hearing under this ruling should contact the plaintiffs’ counsel at (203) 432-4800 or email reidhabeas@mailman.yale.edu.

1Reid v. Donelan, 991 F.Supp.2d 275 (D.Mass. 2014)
2Reid v. Donelan, 297 F.R.D. 185 (D.Mass. 2014)
3Reid v. Donelan, 22 F.Supp.3d 84 (D.Mass. 2014).