Victory in Anti-Shackling Lawsuit!

    Feb 05, 2014

    In January, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati announced a proposed settlement in their lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) dehumanizing practice of shackling detained immigrants in immigration court in San Francisco.

    Previously, in San Francisco, ICE would shackle all detained immigrants, including women and immigrants with medical and mental health issues, in immigration court.  Often these bound individuals would be shackled together in chain-gang fashion.   The shackles ICE uses are metal and connect around the ankles, waist, and wrists of human beings.  Detained immigrants would not be unshackled for bond or individual (or “merits”) hearings during which they are generally required to testify as to why they deserve freedom or the right to stay in this country.  In these hearings, immigrants must often recount terrible events that they have experienced and testify about very emotionally-charged issues. Their testimony is one of the most important pieces of evidence in their cases, and yet, they have been forced to give such testimony while bound in chains.

    These are not individuals who are still serving criminal sentences. These are people who have already completed their full criminal sentence, if they were even given a sentence at all.  Some individuals come into detention based on prior immigration violations or based on arrests in which the charges were dropped, dismissed, or the individual was acquitted.

    ICE’s shackling practice is shameful.  I have witnessed the degrading experiences of clients in the witness box trying to show the court scars or tattoos on their bodies or trying to wipe tears from their faces while constrained by metal shackles. I have also tried to have “private” attorney-client conversations with my clients prior to their hearings by wedging myself on the court bench between chain-ganged detained individuals.

    The settlement in this anti-shackling lawsuit hopefully brings more human dignity to immigration court.   The terms of the settlement with ICE are the following:

    • Shackling is no longer permitted in bond or individual or merit hearings unless the individual creates an emergency situation;
    • Examples of emergency situations include becoming combative, disruptive, violent or threatening;
    • Shackling will continue at master calendar hearings, but ICE is no longer permitted to “chain-gang” individuals together and individual requests can be made to have people unshackled based on medical, physical, or mental health issues;
    • Attorneys will now be allowed to have private visits with their clients before court (imagine that!);
    • ICE is supposed to document their reasons for determining that shackling is necessary for a bond or individual or merits hearing and for denying an individual request to unshackle at a master calendar hearing.

    The settlement is expected to be finalized on April 10, 2014.  For more information, check out: