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Federal Judge Rules Detained Immigrants Are Entitled to Fair Hearings

Mintz, ACLU Achieve Groundbreaking Victory for Immigrants’ Rights

On November 27, Mintz, together with the ACLU of Massachusetts and the ACLU of New Hampshire, achieved a groundbreaking victory for immigrants’ rights when Chief U.S. District Judge Patti B. Saris ruled that the government’s practice of detaining certain immigrants by default violates both due process and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The first-of-its-kind class action lawsuit, Pereira Brito v. Barr, was filed in June on behalf of immigrants who were jailed due to flawed detention hearings in which the detainee was required to bear the burden of proof as to not being a flight risk or a danger to the community. The government’s practice ran contrary to multiple federal court decisions holding that such a procedure is unlawful.

In August, Judge Saris granted class certification, extending the impact of the lawsuit to potentially hundreds of immigrants in New England. Today’s ruling holds that the class of immigrants are entitled to bond hearings at which the government bears the burden of justifying an immigrant’s detention, and at which the immigration court must consider someone’s ability to pay when setting a bond amount.

“We are gratified by Judge Saris’ decision today, which will help to ensure that immigrant individuals who are detained in Massachusetts, or whose cases that are adjudicated here, will get the constitutional and statutory protections they deserve,” said Susan Finegan, Member and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee at Mintz.

“The government has systematically deprived these individuals of their liberty without showing a good reason for doing so, and we are proud to play a role in ending this baseless practice," added Mintz associate Mathilda McGee-Tubb.

“In America, liberty should be the norm for everyone—and detention the last resort,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “This decision affirms that the government’s approach to detention is contrary to common sense and our fundamental values. We are thrilled that, as a result of this order, civil rights will be protected and families will be reunited.”

The ruling announces a permanent injunction, effective December 13, that will require the government to bear the burden of proof, and for the immigration court to consider ability to pay, at bond hearings in the Boston Immigration Court. The permanent injunction will also require the government to disclose information about people who have already been ordered detained in prior immigration hearings.

The lawsuit was filed against Attorney General William Barr and representatives of ICE, the Department of Homeland Security, and several state facilities that house detainees under contract with the federal government. As a result of the lawsuit, the three named plaintiffs—Gilberto Pereira Brito, Florentin Avila Lucas and Jacky Celicourt—have been released from detention.

The Mintz pro bono team representing the plaintiffs in this case includes Members Susan Finegan and Susan Cohen, Special Counsel Andrew Nathanson, and Associates Mathilda McGee-Tubb, Jennifer Mather McCarthy, and Ryan Dougherty.

The case has been covered extensively by news outlets including Law360, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, and others. Click here to learn more about this case.

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