HARRISBURG - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the law firm Dechert LLP announced today that they have filed a federal legal action seeking to free a man who is being held in immigration detention only because he cannot afford the $10,000 bond ordered by a judge. Julio Ortega Campoverde of Allentown has been held in the York County Prison since August 2018, and the legal petition asks the federal court to either release Mr. Ortega Campoverde immediately or order a new hearing applying constitutional standards to consider his ability to pay a bond.
“Like cash bail in the criminal system, this bond order in immigration detention criminalizes poverty,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Julio has a family who loves him and misses him, and the judge concluded that he is neither a flight risk nor a public safety risk. He is only in jail right now because his family cannot afford the bond. That’s devastating for him, his wife Maria, and their kids. And keeping him in jail is a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Mr. Ortega Campoverde is a citizen of Ecuador and has lived in the United States for 21 years. He and his wife have four children together, and she has two children from a previous relationship. All of the children are United States citizens, and his ongoing detention has created anxiety and depression for the children, including for his seven-year-old son who has significant disabilities.
Before his detention, Mr. Ortega Campoverde was the family’s primary income provider, earning approximately $300 per week as a handyman. His wife is unable to work, and the family is now deeply in debt.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania argues that holding Mr. Ortega Campoverde in detention violates his constitutional rights to due process and to equal protection of the law.
“Despite the constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection, Julio was not granted that right when an immigration judge set his bond at an impossibly high amount,” said Vanessa Stine, immigrants rights attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The judge heard evidence of his family’s limited income, recognized that he was not a flight or safety risk, and still set the bond so high that he can’t afford it. Our hope is that the court will recognize this deeply flawed process and set him free.”
Mr. Ortega Campoverde was detained by ICE during a probation check-in in August 2018. He had been sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to a simple assault charge, which was later vacated and for which he subsequently pled guilty to several summary offenses. Mr. Ortega Campoverde was surprised to see ICE at his check-in since he had been complying with the terms and conditions of his probation.
Like most immigration detainees, Mr. Ortega Campoverde represented himself in his deportation defense. An immigration judge denied his bond request and ordered him removed. He filed an appeal and found free legal representation from Nationalities Service Center. After a successful appeal, his immigration attorney also helped him seek and obtain bond. While his counsel presented evidence of his inability to pay, the immigration judge ignored the evidence and issued the bond order.
The filing, a federal habeas petition, was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Mr. Ortega Campoverde is represented by Stine, Muneeba Talukder, and Witold Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Derek J. Brader and Alejandro A. Herrera of the law firm Dechert LLP. A copy of the petition is available at aclupa.org/Ortega.