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San Diego’s ACLU Sues Government Agencies For Lengthy Immigrant Detentions

The Otay Mesa Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention Center, May 18th,...

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: The Otay Mesa Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention Center, May 18th, 2015

The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties says officials are violating due process by detaining immigrants for months before letting them see a judge.

San Diego's ACLU Sues Government Agencies For Lengthy Immigrant Detentions


Bardis Vakili, senior staff attorney, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties

The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties is suing the federal government for allegedly depriving immigrants of their due process rights by detaining them for months before giving them an opportunity to see an immigration judge.

People charged with crimes usually get to see a judge within 48 hours, while immigrant detainees who have not committed crimes are routinely held upwards of two months before they get a court hearing, said Bardis Vakili, senior staff attorney for San Diego's ACLU.

The lawsuit, announced Friday and filed in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice on Thursday, seeks to end the practice of long detentions prior to immigration hearings.

“If the government is going to deprive someone of their liberty, they need to be given some fair process. And locking them up and throwing away the key for two or three months or longer is hardly a fair process," Vakili said.

Neither the Department of Homeland Security nor the Department of Justice immediately responded to requests for comment.

Vakili said the ACLU expects the duration of detentions to increase under President Trump as his administration ends catch and release policies and detains a rising number of immigrants.

“With the rhetoric that the administration is going to focus on detention and essentially default to detention decisions ... the situation will get a lot worse if the court doesn't step in now and say there's a requirement here that you must present them quickly to a judge," Vakili added.

In a press release about the lawsuit, the ACLU explained:

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three clients currently detained in local facilities, including an 18-year-old high school senior who is eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a mother of two U.S. citizen children who has lived in the U.S. for many years, and a man who claims to be a U.S. citizen. They have been detained for weeks or months, but none have seen a judge. The lawsuit contends they are representative of a class of all detainees in DHS custody in the Southern District of California for longer than 48 hours who have not been brought before a judge nor received a judicial determination of probable cause to justify their detention.

About 1,500 people are currently detained at the two detention facilities in the San Diego and Imperial counties, according to the lawsuit, which aims to get relief for all of them, not just the individuals described above.


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