Lawsuit seeks lower bail for poor detainees in U.S. deportation cases

LOS ANGELES U.S. immigration officials should make bail more affordable for poor migrants detained ahead of deportation proceedings and who are not considered likely to abscond, a civil rights group said in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday.

The proposed class-action lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, cited the example of a Honduran hair stylist who has been detained for more than three years because he cannot afford to pay his bond of $3,000.

The legal action represents the latest effort by the ACLU to make it easier for detained immigrants to obtain bond in the U.S. immigration system while awaiting court proceedings that could end with their deportation.

Last year, U.S. immigration officials deported nearly 70,000 immigrants who were apprehended inside the country, according to figures from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In a previous case, the ACLU successfully sued in federal court in California to obtain mandatory bond hearings for immigrants held for six months or more.

“Poverty or lack of financial resources should not deprive a person of his or her freedom while in civil immigration proceedings,” Michael Kaufman, a staff attorney with the group, said in a statement.

The lawsuit, filed against U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and a number of immigration officials, said setting bail amounts too high for detained immigrants violated their right to due process under the U.S. Constitution.

A representative from the U.S. Department of Justice, which oversees the U.S. immigration court system, could not be reached for comment early on Thursday.

The Department, in a written guide posted online, said significant factors in determining how high to set bond for immigrants include length of residence in the United States, family ties and any past attempts at flight.

The ACLU lawsuit faulted the U.S. immigration system for not requiring judges and prosecutors to consider an immigrant’s ability to pay when setting a bond amount. As a result, bail at times is set at more than $100,000, according to the suit.

The suit asks a judge to require immigration officials to set a lower bond when an immigrant has made “good faith efforts” to pay, but cannot afford it.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by John Stonestreet)

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