Immigrants facing possible deportation will have more opportunities to win release on bond under a decision Wednesday by a federal appeals court.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said immigrants housed in civil detention facilities must be given bond hearings every six months.
Judges who preside over those hearings should consider the length of time the immigrants have already served and alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring.
"Civil immigration detainees are treated much like criminals serving time," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the court. "They are typically housed in shared jail cells with no privacy and limited access to larger spaces or the outdoors."
The court said that half the immigrants detained in Southern California remain in detention for one year, and 10% are still locked up after two years.
Those who choose to challenge their detention often prevail but end up spending more years in confinement as a result, the court said. Some simply give up.
The ruling stemmed from a class-action lawsuit on behalf of hundreds of immigrants in Southern California who have been held by the federal government for longer than six months. The appeals court ruled in 2013 that the immigrants who sued were entitled to bond hearings after six months.
Ahilan Thevanesan Arulanantham, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said Wednesday's ruling expanded immigrant rights by providing for periodic bond hearings, instead of just one, and by extending the rights outside of Southern California.
"In other parts of the 9th Circuit, probably about 30% of detainees were not entitled to a hearing at six months or beyond and now they will be able to get that," said Arulanantham, who represented the immigrants for the ACLU.
The ruling is likely to spur more immigrants to pursue efforts to remain in the U.S. because they now will have a greater chance of being released while the legal proceedings drag on, said UC Irvine Law Professor Annie Lai.
"Now what will happen is that if you are detained during your immigration proceedings, every six months you will be able to go to immigration judge and challenge your detention," she said.
Lai said she has represented several clients who have lingered in immigration detention for years because they were allowed only one bond hearing.
"We had a client detained for almost three years," she said. That client likely would have been released had he been entitled to regular bond hearings, she said.
In a separate decision Wednesday, the New York-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the 9th Circuit that that detained immigrants should be given bond hearings after six months.
Dolan reported from San Francisco, Carcamo from Los Angeles.