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YLS Clinics Challenge ICE Detention Policy; Judge Certifies Statewide Class Action

A federal judge issued a ruling this week that will enable Connecticut and Massachusetts residents and others held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to challenge the lengthy detention of persons who pose no danger to the community. In his ruling, U.S. Judge Michael Ponsor rejected the government’s “dubious interpretation” of immigration statutes and certified a class of all immigrant detainees held six months or longer in Massachusetts. Judge Ponsor characterized the government’s arguments as “irrelevant,” “ultimately flawed,” and unable to “withstand scrutiny.”

The representative plaintiff for the class is Mark Reid, a lawful permanent resident from New Haven, Connecticut and veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve. Reid is currently detained by ICE in Massachusetts. Reid and class are represented by students from the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic (WIRAC) and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic, part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School.

In July 2013, Reid filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of himself and other detainees who have been held for prolonged periods without a bond hearing. Judge Ponsor ruled in January 2014 that Reid was entitled to a bond hearing. Reid prevailed in his hearing, and will be released subject to certain conditions as soon as he raises $25,000 to post bond. He continues to fight his deportation to Jamaica, a country where he has no family or friends and has not visited for over 30 years. Judge Ponsor’s ruling yesterday permits all similarly-situated detainees to challenge their no-bond detention as well.

“I’m so glad to have gotten a bond hearing, but it’s wrong that ICE continues to deny this opportunity to others who can’t afford a good lawyer,” said Reid.

The decision should lead to an opportunity for long-term immigration detainees in Massachusetts to secure an individualized bond hearing and, in many cases, release from detention during the pendency of their removal case. In his January ruling granting Reid the right to a bond hearing, Judge Ponsor faulted ICE for its “steadfast” misconstruction of the immigration laws: “Absent an approach that deals with this issue globally, defendants will likely continue to apply their incorrect interpretation . . . in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

Federal courts across the country have rejected ICE arguments that it may detain certain immigrants indefinitely. A series of court orders have required the agency to demonstrate that the people it detains are dangerous. But those rulings have granted relief only to individuals, leaving those without the resources to sue in federal court languishing in detention for months or years.

“Mr. Reid has been held in Massachusetts jails for almost 16 months,” says Devorah Toren ’16, a law student intern with the Veterans Legal Services Clinic of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School. “He finally got his bond hearing, but it’s now time for other immigrants to have their day in court as well.”

“Federal courts around the nation have rejected ICE’s harsh and unlawful interpretation of immigration detention statutes,” said Lunar Mai ’15, a law student intern with the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School.

“This class action will hopefully help persuade the Obama Administration to abandon its illegal and inhumane practices.”