Cities, counties urge Supreme Court to rule on certain constitutional protections for immigrants held in detention


Twenty U.S. cities and counties led by Santa Clara County have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that immigrants held in prolonged detention during deportation proceedings are entitled to certain constitutional protections.

The local governments filed a friend-of-the-court brief on Feb. 10 asking the high court to uphold a 2015 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

The appeals court said in that ruling that immigrants who are held in custody while awaiting deportation proceedings must be given a bond hearing before an immigration judge every six months with the possibility of release on bond if they are not deemed dangerous or a flight risk.

The friend-of-the-court brief, also known as an amicus brief, supports a group of immigrants who sued the federal government in federal court in Los Angeles in 2007, won a preliminary injunction in that court and then won the appeals court decision.

The brief was written by lawyers in the Santa Clara County Counsel’s Office. Other Bay Area governments signing on include Alameda and San Mateo counties and Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose.

Other participants nationwide include Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Portland, Salt Lake City, Seattle and Washington,D.C., among others.

Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said last week:

“Our amicus brief offers an important local perspective, which has been missing from the conversation about immigration detention without bond hearings.”

The cities and counties said in the brief that while they agree that dangerous immigrants should be detained while awaiting deportation, there are two reasons from a local perspective as to why immigrants who are not dangerous should be granted a bond hearing.

One reason is that in the experience of the local governments’ law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, the opportunity for release following an individual bond hearing “does not negatively affect community safety or the integrity of the court process,” the cities and counties said.

The second reason is that prolonged detention of an immigrant family member destabilizes families and jeopardizes the welfare of children, thus requiring the local governments to provide expensive public services such as foster care and welfare payments, the brief said.

The cities and counties told the high court:

“Our immigrant residents are valued members of our communities.”

The brief argues:

“Many of them are longtime residents of our towns, cities and counties; make substantial social and economic contributions; and have U.S. citizen children and other deep local ties.”

U.S. Justice Department lawyers challenging the 9th Circuit decision have argued to the high court that procedures concerning immigrants facing deportation are the province of the executive and legislative branches of government, not the judiciary.

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