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First Circuit Court Restricts Mandatory Detention of Undocumented Immigrants

In a significant victory for immigration activists in the United States, the en banc First Circuit Court has ruled that the federal government cannot use a mandatory” immigration detention law to indefinitely hold undocumented immigrants for prior criminal charges.

Praising the decision of the federal appeals court in Boston, the American Civil Liberties Union notes the ruling effectively allows more than a hundred wrongly detained immigrants to challenge their imprisonment in Massachusetts’ jails.

The ruling comes thanks to the two habeas petitions filed by Leiticia Castaneda and Clayton Gordon, immigrants held without bond because of separate drug charges incurred in 2008. Citing those offenses, immigration officials detained Casteneda and Gordon, even if their priors were from 5 years ago. The plaintiffs were denied bail under mandatory-detention provisions, supposedly designed to capture what the federal government refers to as “criminal aliens.

With federal judges in Massachusetts each ruling that Casteneda and Gordon legally had the right to bond proceedings, the First Circuit immediately got to work and reviewed their cases.

Prior to rehearing the case en back, the First Circuit had already ruled (3-0) in 2014 that Congress had not intended the mandatory-detention provision to apply to immigrants like Castaneda and Gordon, who have records of criminal charges that long predate their civil immigration detention.

Importance of Bail Hearings

A 3-3 split decision ended in favor of the immigrants.

Writing on behalf of the majority, Judge David Barron highlighted that bail hearings were critical legal proceedings, given how they can “stretch on for months or even years.”

Joining the 62-page opinion were judges Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson and Juan Torruella, who took the liberty of parsing the language and history of the mandatory-detention law, determining that Congress had designed it to be limited.

Judge Torruella, however, outright voiced his uneasiness over mandatory-detention provisions found in Title 8, Section 1226(c), calling the indefinite holding of an individual and withholding access to bond or bail a violation of due process.

Reactions and Dissents

ACLU attorney Adriana Lafaille said the timing of the majority’s ruling couldn’t be better, as it means her client and those facing the same problem can be home with their families for the holidays. Castaneda’s lawyer Greg Romanovsky likewise lauded the decision, noting that it finally highlights the concerns many people have with the constitutionality of the mandatory detention law.

Lead dissenting Judge William Kayatta, however, defended the provision, calling it a necessary step to prevent certain immigrants from escaping deportation proceedings. In the 41-page dissent, he, together with Judges Jeffrey Howard and Sandra Lynch, believes that Congress had reason to regard this “group of aliens” as posing a flight risk because of their criminal history, making it likely the ICE will deport them upon identification.

If you’re facing a similar case, learn more about how this major decision affects your status and rights by seeking expert legal advice from the skilled immigration lawyers of Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices at 512-215-5225 or visit our website.

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