(CN) - The Constitution does not allow the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to detain immigrants for longer than six months in Massachusetts without a bond hearing, a federal judge ruled.
Mark Reid, a Jamaica-born U.S. resident, brought the class action on behalf of immigrants detained for longer than six months without a bond hearing after he was detained in Massachusetts for more than a year while ICE tried to deport him for non-violent drug convictions. Reid was released earlier this year after he was granted a bond hearing, and continues to fight to stay in the U.S.
U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor found that immigrants detained beyond six months are deprived of their due process rights.
"The burden on the executive branch officials to manage our labyrinthine immigration system is heavy. The need to detain certain individuals pending removal cannot be denied," Ponsor wrote. "But, where the government applies a statute without consideration for constitutional guarantees, the rights of vulnerable aliens are at risk."
Ponsor rejected ICE's argument that the Constitution allows the agency to detain immigrants without providing them with a bond hearing.
"First, there can be no doubt that members of the class are suffering irreparable harm each day they are detained beyond six months without the opportunity to argue for release," Ponsor found.
"Such detention is an emotional and physical ordeal for class members and is particularly severe for those who have colorable claims for release on bail during the pendency of their removal proceedings," he wrote.
Ponsor ordered the government to provide timely bond hearings to the class members, who must also be notified of the lawsuit. Ponsor also ordered the government to submit a report detailing the bond hearings held before the order by July 31.
"In light of Judge Ponsor's well-reasoned rulings and the growing chorus of federal courts that have rejected the government's draconian interpretation of its detention authority, we call on the Obama Administration to adopt the rule in this case nationwide," said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, which served as co-counsel. "Immigrants deserve the opportunity to ask a judge for the chance to return to their families while they challenge their deportations."