TUCSON, Ariz. ― Immigrants facing prosecution for crossing the border illegally appeared before a judge without shackles for the first time in years here Tuesday, after a landmark ruling ordered the federal courts in Arizona to stop routinely restraining people who don’t present a security threat.
The ruling applies to anyone facing federal criminal charges in Arizona. But it disproportionately affects Operation Streamline, an immigration-prosecution program that allows judges to group defendants to speed up hearings for those accused of crossing the border illegally.
Some public defenders and immigrant rights groups viewed the change as a positive, if limited, development. Bob Libal, director of the Texas-based group Grassroots Leadership, told HuffPost: “It makes the process seem less overtly dehumanizing. I think it’s a good thing that people aren’t in shackles, and it’s a terrible thing that we’re prosecuting dozens and dozens of people daily for the crime of coming to the country.”
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling May 31 that it is unconstitutional to indiscriminately force defendants to appear before a federal judge in shackles. Instead, judges have to decide if each individual defendant poses a security risk that would require restraints.
“A presumptively innocent defendant has the right to be treated with respect and dignity in a public courtroom, not like a bear on a chain,” the opinion reads.
It’s unclear how the ruling will affect immigrant prosecutions in the future, according to Cosme Lopez, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona.
“We’re waiting for everything to clear,” Lopez told HuffPost. “We’re taking it one day at a time.”
The U.S. District Court for the state of Arizona has until Friday to respond to last week’s ruling ordering the state to stop routinely shackling defendants. The order may change after it does so.