Immigrants detained for more than six months without a bond hearing can sue the federal government in a class action aimed at getting a court to recognize their right to a swifter appearance before a judge, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
In a case brought by civil rights groups, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision denying the group class status for their lawsuit.
"This is a huge victory for immigrants who have been held in prolonged, indefinite detention without the most basic element of due process: a hearing to determine if their detention is justified," said Ahilan Arulanantham, director of immigrants' rights and national security for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.
"Because the court has allowed the case to go forward as a class action, many detainees -- the overwhelming majority of whom lack legal representation -- will be able to benefit from the court's final decision," Arulanantham said.
U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter declined last year to certify the immigrants, led by Mexican citizen Alejandro Rodriguez, as a class with common standing to bring suit alleging rights violations.
Rodriguez, now 31, came to the United States at the age of 1 in 1979 and attained lawful permanent resident status eight years later.
In 2004, he was incarcerated and threatened with deportation over drug and theft charges and remained in Department of Homeland Security detention for more than three years.
A month after he filed his petition for class certification of all who were detained for six months or more pending immigration proceedings, he was released and government lawyers argued that his claim for relief was moot.
The 9th Circuit judges -- Betty Binns Fletcher, Raymond C. Fisher and Ronald M. Gould, all appointed by Democratic presidents -- said Hatter erred in rejecting class certification at the government's urging.
The class action in demand of individual bond hearings for detained immigrants can now be set for trial.