The federal government sets unreasonable bonds for detained immigrants, including asylum seekers, by failing to consider their financial resources or ability to pay, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles.

The complaint, filed by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the national American Civil Liberties Union, seeks to require the government to apply standards similar to those used in criminal cases when setting bail bonds for immigrants.

“Poverty or lack of financial resources should not deprive a person of his or her freedom while in civil immigration proceedings,” said Michael Kaufman, a staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation. “Such detention violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Bail Clause and the immigration laws.”

An attempt to reach the DOJ’s media office in Washington, D.C., after regular business hours was unsuccessful.

Currently, individuals awaiting trial on criminal charges are entitled to bail. In such cases, judges must consider the defendant’s ties to the community, the seriousness of the crime and the individual’s financial circumstances when setting bail.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently argued that incarcerating individuals “solely because of their inability to pay for their release” is unconstitutional, according to the ACLU.

The Department of Homeland Security and immigration judges, however, are not required to consider an immigrant’s financial situation or resources when setting bond for those facing deportation or seeking asylum, and routinely do not do so, according to the lawsuit.

As a result, many immigrants are ordered release on bond but languish in immigration jails for years because they cannot afford it, according to the ACLU.

“At a time when state and federal criminal justice systems are moving to reform the fees and financial constraints that unfairly affect low-income individuals, the federal government’s immigration detention practices continue to deprive some immigrants of their liberty because they are poor,” said Michael Tan, staff attorney with ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Cesar Matias, 37, is among those challenging the current bond policy. A native of Honduras, Matias is seeking asylum, having spent four years locked up in a Santa Ana immigration jail because he lacks the money to post a $3,000 bond, according to the ACLU.

Like Matias, dozens if not hundreds of immigrants in Southern California remain detained, without hope of release, solely because they are too poor to post bond, according to the lawsuit.

–City News Service

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