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US Lawsuit Aims to Stop Confiscation of Immigrants’ Belongings

By: Elena Toledo - @NenaToledo - Apr 11, 2016, 12:17 pm
Groups of immigrants are legally unprotected on their way through the U.S.
Immigrants are poorly protected on their way through the U.S. (La Tribuna)

EspañolActivist groups in the United States are taking action on two fronts to see better treatment of immigrants in federal custody.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, in conjunction with other organizations, filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Homeland Security arguing that Border Patrol agents are confiscating immigrants’ property before deporting them to Mexico, in some cases to cities they aren’t even from.

The complaint was filed on the same day the Southern California ACLU filed a lawsuit to require deportation agents and other immigration judges to consider the immigrants ability to pay at the time of establishing bonds and to avoid imprisoning people just because they are poor. Proponents claim that at least 100 immigrants are detained daily even after being granted bail.

The lawsuits were filed separately and came after the candidates heated rhetoric in the presidential campaign on how the country should treat immigrants and on who should be allowed to remain in the country or not.

Activists in New Mexico said immigrants suspected of being in the US without permission were deported without their belongings in 26 cases, and that the confiscations put them in highly risky situations. In one case, Border Patrol agents arrested a 23-year-old man from Chihuahua, Mexico on a road near Antelope Wells, New Mexico, and forced him to sign a document renouncing the right to his belongings, according to the complaint.

In another case, agents seized nearly US$400 from a 23-year-old woman from Guerrero, Mexico, after stopping her near an international bridge in El Paso, Texas. The seized money was part of her life savings and was never returned, said the defenders.

The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Border Patrol, said it has a policy to care for the detainees’ property, and to return all belongings when they are being deported. The agency will review the complaint, Border Patrol Spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement.

Bonds, Alternatives to Detention

Christensen also declined to comment on the Souther California ACLU suit. The group wants the authorities to consider other types of deposits or alternatives to detention so more immigrants have an opportunity to be freed.

The ACLU noted immigration bonds must be paid in full, and in cash. The Justice Department has urged the criminal courts to consider the defendants’ ability to pay when setting bails. Activists want the immigration courts to do the same.

The lawsuit cited the case of Honduran Cesar Matthias, who has been detained since 2012 despite having paid US$3,000 in bail. Matthias was taken into custody by immigration authorities after a drug sentence and sought asylum to avoid deportation to Honduras, where he was persecuted for being homosexual, Attorney for the Southern California ACLU Michael Kaufman said.

“The purpose of bail is to ensure the appearance of a person in court,” he said. “Its purpose is not to impose an unattainable condition that is basically another way to order the arrest of a person.”

The ACLU intends to have a class action considered for immigrants detained in the metropolitan area of ​​Los Angeles, where authorities have the capacity to detain 3,000 people.

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The lawsuit was filed against the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Both declined to comment.

Source: La Tribuna.

Elena Toledo Elena Toledo

Educator by trade, social-media apprentice, activist for a democratic Honduras, and free thinker. Follow her on Twitter @NenaToledo.