Attorneys for three jailed immigrants filed a class action lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore challenging what they say are unconstitutional bond hearing policies and practices of the Baltimore Immigration Court that lead to the arbitrary detention of non-U.S. citizens.
U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr is among the defendants listed in the complaint, as are officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Howard County Department of Corrections, the Frederick County Adult Detention Center and the Worcester County Detention Center.
The complaint also notes that the novel coronavirus outbreak makes the detainees’ situation increasingly dangerous and the need for their release more urgent.
The complaint, filed by attorneys in the Baltimore office of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP as well as by the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, the ACLU of Maryland Foundation and the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, alleges that during bond hearings in Baltimore Immigration Court the government violates the constitutional rights of detainees when it requires that they, not the government, bear the burden of proving that they are not flight risks or dangers to the community in order to be released.
“Placing the burden of proof on the individual, rather than on the government, turns well-established norms of due process on their head,” Deborah K. Marcuse, managing partner of Sanford Heisler Sharp’s Baltimore office, said in a statement.
In an interview, Marcuse said that immigration court judges also do not take into account immigrants’ ability to pay when they set bond.
“The function of bond is so you don’t have to detain someone,” Marcuse said. She added that when judges set bond beyond people’s ability to pay they are effectively making “a constructive bond denial masked as the grant of bond” – which Marcuse also characterized as unconstitutional.
“That goes against the very concept of granting a bond,” Marcuse said.
The government’s bond hearing policies and practices do “irreparable harm” to families and individuals “even in the absence of a deadly pandemic that is sweeping across detention facilities,” Marcuse said, adding, “The pandemic is making everything exponentially worse.”
Jack Kavanagh, director of the Howard County Department of Corrections and a defendant in the class-action suit, said Thursday that the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup had no detainees with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“I have full confidence we have done everything we’re supposed to do in managing the coronavirus,” Kavanagh said.
The complaint was filed on behalf of Marvin Dubon Miranda, Ajibade Thompson Adegoke and Jose de la Cruz Espinoza and “all others similarly situated.”
In a written statement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said it could not comment on pending litigation.
The case is Dubon Miranda et al. v. Barr et al., 1:20-cv-01110.