SEATTLE (AP) - Certain immigrants can't be held in detention without a chance at a bond hearing, a federal judge ruled late Tuesday.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Richard Jones stems from a complaint filed on behalf of three men who were held for months at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma with no chance at a bond hearing, where a judge would determine if they present a flight risk or a danger to the community.
The complaint was filed by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The court's ruling recognizes what is at stake, the anguish and hardship caused by being locked up for months," Matt Adams, legal director of the immigrant rights group, said in a statement Wednesday. "A bond hearing is not a free ticket out of jail. But at least a person has the right to present their case. That is all they are seeking, a fair shot."
The ruling comes as a hunger strike at the Tacoma detention center winds down. Hundreds of immigrants participated in the first few days of the strike. Only four detainees were still refusing food on Wednesday morning, the strike's sixth day.
Activists said the detainees are seeking better food and treatment, as well as to be released on bond while their cases are heard.
At question is a "mandatory detention" rule for immigrants who have been convicted of certain crimes and have served a sentence, and come into the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement dragnet. Over the years, the agency has focused on picking up immigrants who have committed crimes and immediately moving them into deportation proceedings.
But attorneys for the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project said the men in the complaint were arrested years after serving their sentences, and had gone back to their families and jobs. They argued ICE was using a broad interpretation of the federal rule.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman declined to comment.
"There can be no serious question that some of these aliens present no risk to their communities and no risk of flight, because some of them have been living in this country for decades and have families and careers," Jones wrote. "What the government thinks about a law that locks away peaceable family members without release, the court can only guess."
Adams estimated that of the 1,300 or so immigrants held in Tacoma, about a dozen qualify for this group at any given time. He added ICE was provided with dozens of example beyond the three men in the complaint.
Up next for Adams are meetings with ICE attorneys to see whether any more court action is needed. ICE also has the option to appeal, but it's not known now if that will happen.
There have been other complaints around nation on this subject, Adams said.
"Hopefully we resolved it for folks here, but this is an issue throughout the country," he added.
Manuel Valdes can be reached at http://twitter.com/ByManuelValdes