A recent class-action decision by a judge is considered a victory for detained immigrants. The decision may force law enforcement officers and ICE officials in Florida and across the country to revise their procedures.
In the case, the lead plaintiff was a high school-aged immigrant living in Miami. He was seen writing "503" on his notebook, and local law enforcement was contacted. "503" is a sign for an El Salvador gang, but it is also the international calling code for that country.
Local authorities contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the youth was detained under suspicion of gang affiliation. Without hearing, he was transported to a facility in Brentwood, NY. Without the class-action suit and the actions of his attorneys, he may have remained in detention indefinitely without hearing. As it was, he was detained over five months without hearing and without notification to his parents.
The Court in California ruled that minimum due process protections must be given to immigrants in custody. First, the detainee is entitled to a hearing. Secondly, the hearing must be conducted by an unbiased arbiter. Third, the government must present evidence supporting the arrest and detainment. The burden is on the government to show that detention is necessary. The court ruled that in order to continue detaining a minor immigrant, it must show that he or she is a flight risk or dangerous.
The requirements issued by the court are some of the most basic constitutional protections given to the accused in the U.S. criminal justice system. People cannot be held based solely on suspicion, nor can they be detained indefinitely without a hearing and the ability to present evidence on their own behalf. Those who have been subject to immigration detention, or those with family members detained in this matter, may wish to seek the assistance of experienced legal counsel.