Federal Judge Approves Limited Use Of Shackles During Court Hearings

CREDIT: AP/ Julie Jacobson

On Thursday, a federal judge in San Francisco approved a settlement which will limit shackling most immigrants during court hearings. Only the San Francisco Immigration Court, which sees about 2,000 immigrants each year, will be affected by the settlement, but advocacy groups hope that the case could set a precedent in other jurisdictions.

According to the lawsuit, immigrant detainees wear metal restraints on their wrists, ankles, and waists. They can also spend up to 12 hours in the shackles “before, during, and after their hearings.”

The settlement ensures that the limitation will affect all current and future detainees held in custody pending their immigration cases. Immigrants will still be shackled if they are an escape risk or become violent during the hearing. They will also be shackled during preliminary hearings, or master calendar hearings, in which detainees appear in large groups of 20 to 30 individuals. But during master calendar days, individuals with physical, psychological, or medical conditions can request special accommodations. The settlement will prohibit immigrants from being daisy chained, which means that they won’t be chained to one another.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, one of the groups leading the lawsuit, argued that the practice of shackling is distressing and humiliating for immigrants who “have no history of violent or disruptive behavior.” Some of those shackled are asylum seekers and immigrants “who had suffered from torture and domestic violence in the past.” The group also said that restraints “may predispose judges to view them as criminals” even though some immigrant detainees are locked up because they can’t afford the immigration bond.

In spite of the narrow scope of the settlement, there may likely be more advances to limit the use of shackles on some immigrants. Just last week, Congress approved an omnibus spending bill which includes a provision that ends shackling pregnant immigrant detainees. Other advocacy groups are also working towards maintaining humane practices for immigrant detainees. Since only ten percent of the 250 U.S. detention centers provide legal orientation programs to immigrant detainees, Reps. Bill Foster (D-IL) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) introduced the Immigrant Detainee Legal Rights Act, which would make it necessary for undocumented immigrants to be told about hearing procedures. Legal information would also be provided for detainees within five days of being taken into custody.