The SPLC and its allies have sued the Trump administration for holding people in Georgia immigration prisons just because they do not have enough money to pay for bail.
The federal lawsuit, Torres-Soto v. Barr, explains how the federal government detains thousands of people each month, including asylum seekers, lawful permanent residents and victims of human trafficking, in Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center and Stewart Detention Center.
Many of these individuals — who are charged with violations of civil immigration law and are detained pending deportation proceedings — have been found eligible for release. However, they remain in detention solely because they lack the financial resources to buy a bond for their freedom.
The practice violates their due process and equal protections rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Immigration and Nationality Act, the lawsuit states.
“Georgia immigration officials routinely flout federal laws by keeping low-income immigrants in detention months after the court has set bond in their case simply because they cannot afford to pay their bond,” said Ivy Wang, senior staff attorney for the SPLC. “This practice of wealth-based detention is not only unconstitutional, but it also significantly hinders a person’s ability to defend their case and support their family.”
Following a traffic accident in December, plaintiff Jose Torres-Soto was transported to the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia. He was locked up there for five months before a court hearing on May 2.
During his hearing, the immigration judge refused to set his bond lower than $18,000, but did not explain why the bond was so high or inquire about whether Torres-Soto, who had been working overtime as a manufacturing company machine operator to make ends meet, could pay it.
“I work hard to provide for my family, but it’s almost never enough,” said Torres-Soto, a husband and father of four, including three U.S. citizen children. “When I was detained by ICE, our situation went from bad to worse. No one should be deprived of their freedom only because they don’t have the money to get out. My family and I don’t deserve this treatment.”
Federal immigration officials have determined that certain individuals can be safely released on cash bond. Yet, federal officials refuse to take into account their ability to pay when they set bond. As a result, many individuals languish in harsh prison facilities for months while their cases are pending.
The defendants in the lawsuit are U.S. Attorney General William Barr, officials from the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Irwin County Detention Center.
The SPLC is partnering with the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia in the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. Court for the Middle District of Georgia.