• Alex Garland
As a hunger strike by immigrants at the Northwest Detention Center enters its sixth day, federal judge Richard Jones in Seattle has ruled in favor of a group of detainees from the facility who say their detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is illegal.

The three immigrants say they should be allowed to post bond and be released while their deportation cases are processed—a demand echoed by the detainees on hunger strike and their supporters, who rallied outside the facility yesterday evening (more photos below). The judge flatly rejected ICE's motion for dismissal and granted the lawsuit class-action status.

"ICE has been denying the opportunity to seek a bond to hundreds, if not thousands of people, who should have been permitted to seek release on bond while their deportability from the US is determined," says attorney Devin Theriot-Orr, part of a legal team that, with the ACLU and Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, is bringing the suit.

"And since being detained at the Northwest Detention Center is so awful," Theriot-Orrthis says, "it means that a lot of people may have opted not to fight their case simply to get released faster."

ICE's current practice, which the judge ruled against, is as follows: A non-citizen who commits a deportable offense can be sentenced to jail time and then released. If, years later, the individual commits a non-deportable offense (such as driving without a license) ICE will detain and hold them without bond until their deportation case is settled—a process can drag on for months or years.

Judge Jones, in a thorough 24-page ruling (PDF) issued yesterday, seems bemused at the government's claims that the detainees are at risk of threatening their communities or fleeing:

There can be no serious question that some of these aliens present no risk to their communities and no risk of flight, because some of them have been living in this country for decades and have families and careers. What the government thinks about a law that locks away peaceable family members without release, the court can only guess...

At the risk of understatement, the court observes that locking people up without bond hearings presents substantial Due Process concerns...

Each Plaintiff committed a state crime, was convicted, and served his sentence. Each was released. Each returned to his family and community. Each was arrested years later by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), an agency within DHS. Mr. Khoury, a native of Palestine and lawful permanent resident of the United States since 1976, was released from state custody in June 2011 after serving a 30-day sentence on a drug charge. ICE agents arrested him in April 2013. Mr. Rodriguez, a native of the Dominican Republic and a lawful permanent resident of the United States since 1995, served the non-suspended portion of a three-year sentence on a drug charge and was released in August 2010. ICE agents arrested him in April 2013. Mr. Carrera, a native of Mexico who has lived in the United States since 1998, finished a 60-day sentence in February 2003. ICE agents arrested him in April 2013.

The judge concludes, relying on considerable precedent, that ICE must immediately detain an individual upon their release from jail for the original offense—rather than arrest the person years later, lock them away, and deny him or her bond.

ICE, which has two weeks to respond to the ruling, declined to comment on ongoing litigation. Also this week, another federal judge deemed the agency's practice of shackling detainees to be unconstitutional. "To deny or minimize an individual’s dignity in an immigration proceeding, or to treat this essential attribute of human worth as anything less than fundamental simply because an immigration proceeding is titularly civil, would be an affront to due process," Judge Michael Ponsor wrote.

Roughly 150 people demonstrated as the sun set on Tuesday—which activists called a "national day" to end immigration detention bed quotas—outside the Tacoma detention center. According to ICE, five immigrants (down from hundreds last week) inside remain on hunger strike, "under medical observation."

  • Alex Garland

  • Alex Garland
  • Ashton Peralta and her two children came to the protest from Kent. They're originally from Mexico City. Both her husband and father are detainees who participated in the hunger strike.

  • Alex Garland

  • Alex Garland