A San Francisco American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit was settled to disallow the use of shackles on San Francisco immigrants during their deportation hearings.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to stop shackling the wrists, ankles, and waists of immigrants at their hearings, though they will still be shackled during a short, preliminary “master calendar” hearing.
For now, the agreement only applies to the San Francisco immigration court. A federal judge will determine if the settlement applies to other California immigration courts.
The ACLU declared the settlement a victory, pointing out that certain immigrants were asylum seekers who had suffered from torture and violence. Immigrants awaiting hearing are either here illegally, or have legal status but have committed felonies. Most, though, are nonviolent.
The settlement comes after two years of litigation involving 16 plaintiffs who shared their troubling experiences in Northern California immigration courts. Their testimony stated that they often spent hours in metal cuffs as they were transported to and from remote holding cells, as well as during their hearings.
"Putting them in shackles is so contrary to fundamental American values of justice and fairness," said ACLU attorney Julia Harumi Mass.
The San Francisco court processes 2,000 immigrants a year. 30,000 immigrants are in ICE custody nationwide.
"In addition to securing fairer hearings for detained immigrants in Northern California, we expect U.S. immigration officials will now think twice before shackling immigration detainees for their court hearings elsewhere in the country,” Mass said.
ICE released a statement that said it was "committed to preserving the dignity and welfare of all those in our custody. The agency is also obligated to ensure the safety of the public and employees visiting or working in federal buildings that house court proceedings."
Only immigrants who are deemed a threat or flight risk will now be shackled at the San Francisco court.