A lawsuit stemming from the detention of undocumented immigrants who lack funds to post bail was settled following six years of litigation, resulting in changes that will require federal officials to consider financial challenges before imposing bond amounts, it was announced Wednesday.
The settlement in the civil action, filed in April 2016, was reached Monday following negotiations between the U.S. Department of Justice and ACLU-affiliated lawyers representing Honduran national Cesar Matias and Mexican national Xochitl Hernandez.
The pair were the principals in the class-action suit, which was initiated based on findings that they had been detained for extended periods because they could not meet bond requirements set by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement.
U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal in Riverside signed off on the agreement.
“No one should be locked up because they don’t have the money to buy their freedom,” said Michael Tan, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The settlement will help put the brakes on our out-of-control immigration prison system and provides a model for reform throughout the country.”
According to court documents, Hernandez was placed at the Adelanto Detention Center in San Bernardino County in 2016 following an ICE investigation.
The woman, who had a larceny conviction, was facing deportation hearings, and a $60,000 bond was set in her case. An immigration judge determined the amount was justified because Hernandez “posed a flight risk,” according to U.S. Department of Justice documents filed in 2017.
However, the bail was lowered less than six months later to $5,000, and Hernandez was able to meet that obligation, securing her release from detention, documents stated.
Matias, a hairdresser in Los Angeles, was arrested in 2012 and placed in the Santa Ana City Jail on an ICE illegal immigrant detainer. According to court documents, his bail was set at $3,000, an amount which an immigration judge called “pretty generous” in view of the circumstances. He remained jailed for four years while his asylum case was pending review, according to the ACLU.
He was ultimately able to post bond.
The government noted that in both instances, the defendants did not specifically declare financial hardships in immigration court hearings.
The plaintiffs’ suit, Hernandez v. Garland, resulted in the federal government consenting to henceforward consider a detainee’s financial circumstances before setting bond; not to set an amount in excess of what’s reasonable to ensure a detainee appears at future hearings; and consider whether other options exist outside of bail to prevent flight from justice, including ankle-bracelet GPS monitoring or other forms of contact with ICE agents.
“By institutionalizing constitutionally required practices, the settlement will ensure that conditions of release, whether a money bond or some non-monetary alternative, will better serve their purpose while also not punishing those who cannot pay,” said Doug Smith, a private attorney who worked alongside the ACLU in the suit.
Bernal ordered that the plaintiffs’ counsel receive $1.6 million from the federal government in direct compensation, as well as $148,975 in additional payments for expenses, to cover the costs of their legal work.