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Suit seeks to limit shackling of immigration detainees in court

August 17, 2011 |  1:43 pm

Civil rights attorneys in San Francisco have sued federal authorities, demanding an end to the alleged practice of shackling all adult detainees -- even the elderly and disabled -- during immigration court proceedings.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, contends that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security are violating the constitutional rights of detainees by failing to make case-by-case determinations of the need for shackling.

“Physical restraints are meant for those who pose significant risk to themselves or others,” ACLU attorney Julia Harumi Mass said in a statement. “There’s a big difference between Hannibal Lecter and your neighbor’s nanny.”

Among the named plaintiffs is 35-year-old Uelian De Abadi-Peixoto, a Brazilian asylum applicant and domestic violence survivor who has plastic and steel plates in her knees, legs, feet, back, and head from previous injuries. She currently is in immigration custody in Yuba County.

Despite having no history of violence or of being disruptive in court or in custody, the suit contends, De Abadi-Peixoto has had to wear ankle and wrist restraints with a belly chain during proceedings, aggravating her medical condition and stirring trauma of past abuse.

Plaintiffs attorneys said they focused the lawsuit on San Francisco, but that anecdotal evidence suggested across-the-board shackling occurs in other immigration jurisdictions, including Boston, Baltimore and Chicago. The suit seeks case-by-case review for detainees in San Francisco, but plaintiffs said they hoped to influence the practice nationwide.

ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley declined comment Wednesday, citing a longstanding agency policy not to discuss pending litigation.

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-- Lee Romney in San Francisco

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