Immigration authorities must provide bond hearings every six months to immigrants who have not committed any crime, but are jailed in long-term civil detention while officials decide if they may stay in the U.S., a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
At any given time, 33,000 people are held in detention at any one time and roughly 429,000 over the course of a year spend time in detention hold by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that while these people are held, some as long as five years, awaiting decisions during the removal process they must be given individual bail hearings at least once every six months.
The ruling comes in a class action lawsuit by non-citizens held in detention without individual bond hearings.
This is the third time the case has been appealed in an eight year fight over how to handle detainees.
A preliminary injunction issued in 2012 required individualized bond hearings and the government appealed. The circuit affirmed in 2013. In addition, the court held at that time the hearings should be before a neutral immigration judge and the government had the burden of showing “clear and convincing evidence” for the detention.
After the 2013 ruling, the case went back to the trial judge, who made the injunction permanent and it was again appealed.
“Under the permanent injunction, the government must provide any class member who is subject to ‘prolonged detention’ – six months or more – with a bond hearing before an immigration judge,” wrote Judge Kim Wardlaw.
She was joined by Judge Ronald Gould and visiting Judge Sam Haddon of the Montana District Court.
The immigrants who filed suit spend an average of over a year in detention, about 404 days, according to the court.
One class member has been detained 1,585 days, or nearly four and one-half years of civil confinement.
Those who vigorously fight for the right to remain in the U.S. spend much longer in detention than those who accede to the government’s demand for removal, according to Wardlaw. Those detained frequently have strong ties to the U.S., many immigrated as children and obtained legal permanent resident status and have lived as long as 20 years in the U.S., according to the court.
In hundreds of class members are married to U.S. citizens or a lawful permanent resident and have children who were born here and have steady jobs.
“Prolonged detention imposes severe hardship on class members and their families,” Wardlaw wrote, but civil immigration detainees are treated “much like criminals serving time” typically in shared jail cells with no privacy and limited access to the outdoors and it is difficult to retain or meet legal counsel.
Case: Rodriguez v. Robbins, No. 13-56706