Long-Detained Immigrants in Massachusetts Win Class Action Suit As Judge Orders Bond Hearings

On May 27, 2014, a federal judge ordered that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) must provide bond hearings to immigrants who have been mandatorily detained for longer than six months in Massachusetts, a population that includes many residents of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. In granting relief to plaintiffs in this class action suit, Judge Michael Ponsor rejected ICE’s argument that the Constitution permits the government to detain immigrants indefinitely without providing them the opportunity to ask a judge for release. The ruling will provide dozens of immigrants with the chance to present to a judge their case for release.

"We’ve waited so long for this ruling and the promise of justice that it holds for us," said Alex Lewis, a 20-year-old Massachusetts resident who has been detained for almost 9 months. "I miss my mom and just hope that I can hug her again."

This ruling followed two previous decisions earlier this year in the same case. In January 2014, Judge Ponsor granted the lead plaintiff, Mark Reid, a bond hearing because his detention had become prolonged, and in February 2014, Judge Ponsor certified a class of similarly situated detained immigrants. Because the court certified the case as a class action, yesterday’s ruling will result in relief to detained immigrants across the state, including many who lack the resources to hire an attorney. Because there is no right to a public defender in deportation cases, most detainees cannot challenge their detention on their own.

"This is a well-deserved victory for our clients," said Mary Yanik '14, a law student intern in the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School, which brought the case on behalf of Reid. "Individual immigrants have been successfully challenging prolonged detention for years, but this order will finally guarantee hearings for all detainees in Massachusetts. Judge Ponsor rightfully rejected the government’s radical argument that its power to detain immigrants during proceedings is unlimited."

"In light of Judge Ponsor’s well-reasoned rulings and the growing chorus of federal courts that have rejected the government’s draconian interpretation of its detention authority, we call on the Obama Administration to adopt the rule in this case nationwide," said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. "Immigrants deserve the opportunity to ask a judge for the chance to return to their families while they challenge their deportations." The ACLU is serving as co-counsel on the case along with WilmerHale.

The judge ordered the government to "timely provide a bond hearing to every class member." The government must also provide notice of the suit to all class members and provide plaintiffs’ counsel with a list of class members. The court ordered the government to submit a report by July 31, 2014, detailing the bond hearings held pursuant to the order.

Those who think they may be entitled to a bond hearing under this ruling should contact plaintiffs’ counsel at 203-432-4800.

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, trafficking, and other civil rights areas, through litigation for individuals and non-litigation advocacy for community-based organizations.

Under the Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic (VLSC), students have represented Connecticut veterans in litigation before administrative agencies and courts, on benefits, discharge upgrade, immigration, and pardon matters. In addition, students represent local and national organizations in non-litigation matters relating to the legal needs of veterans, including regulatory and legislative reform efforts, media advocacy, strategic planning, and other matters.