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California Immigrant Shackling Case Certified as Class Action

A California federal court granted class certification in a case challenging a blanket policy and practice of shackling civil immigration detainees who appear in immigration court.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) "have implemented a blanket practice of requiring all detained immigrants to appear for immigration court hearings in shackles — hard metal restraints around their ankles, wrists, and waists."

"This practice is applied across the board — to refugees fleeing persecution and torture in their native countries, the elderly, and the physically and mentally disabled — with no review of the need for restraints for particular detainees. During master calendar hearings, detainees are often chained to one another in what is referred to as a 'daisy chain."

Shackling causes physical pain and discomfort, including bruising and swelling. For detainees who have been bound or tortured in the past, "shackling also can cause emotional and psychological injuries."

Additionally, "shackling impairs the mental acuity, confidence, and energy individuals need for a full and fair opportunity to participate in their immigration proceedings." When detainees are shackled they have "difficulty taking notes and handling documents. The attorney-client relationship can be impaired because, when 'daisy chained,' detainees must choose between disclosing personal, and sometimes humiliating facts within earshot of other detainees or withholding from their counsel information that could be crucial to their cases."

Several immigrants who were in ICE custody and subjected to the blanket shackling practice, challenged the practice in federal court and moved for class certification. Defendants moved to dismiss.

The federal court first rejected Defendants' argument that none of Plaintiffs' claims were ripe for adjudication. It then rejected Defendants' contention that Plaintiff's cannot prevail on a facial challenge to the shackling policy.

Finally, the court noted that "the heart of defendants' motion is the argument that plaintiffs' claims are foreclosed on the merits by the Ninth Circuit's decision in United States v. Howard, 480 F3d 1005 (9'1' Cir. 2007)." Citing United States v. Brandau, 578 F3d 1064 (91h Cir. 2009), the court rejected this argument, finding that the "Ninth Circuit, however, has subsequently made clear that Howard cannot be read as establishing a rule that blanket shackling is always permissible if no jury is present." The court concluded that "evaluating whether the policy at issue in this case can . . . be justified must await the development of an evidentiary record.”

The court then found that Plaintiffs satisfied the FRCP 23 criteria and granted class certification of a "class consisting of all current and future adult immigration detainees who have or will have proceedings in immigration court in San Francisco." See: De Abadia-Peixoto v. US Dept. of Homeland Security, 2011 WL 6749089 (ND Cal 2011).

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Related legal case

De Abadia-Peixoto v. US Dept. of Homeland Security