The County of San Mateo joined 19 other cities and counties nationwide today in filing a “friend of the court” brief with the United States Supreme Court, asking it to uphold important constitutional protections for immigrants held in prolonged federal detention.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed in January to join the amicus curiae brief — filed by parties with a strong interest in a specific matter —in support of Jennings v. Rodriguez. The brief supports the arguments of a group of immigrants ordered into detention while awaiting deportation proceedings, often for months or years at a time with no opportunity to be considered for release.

The brief argues that immigrants held in mandatory detention must be given the same basic constitutional protections that all 50 states and the District of Columbia grant to every person arrested for a crime.

“In the criminal justice system, anyone can post bail if it is set, including undocumented individuals. It’s incongruous that in these civil proceedings there is no opportunity to exercise the same liberties,” said San Mateo County Counsel John Beiers.

In Jennings, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider, among other issues, whether bond hearings are required for certain aliens challenging deportation orders, how frequently such hearings must be conducted and the appropriate burden of proof. A lower court held that detainees must be given a bond hearing every six months at which an immigrant judge can consider an individual for release based on his or her flight risk and risk to public safety.

San Mateo County supervisors noted that the issues at the crux of the case are important to local governments because they affect local families and communities.

“We want to to have our voice heard and are proud to join our colleagues in other jurisdictions in standing up for every person’s constitutional rights,” said Board of Supervisors President Don Horsley. “The question isn’t whether we think that a person should or should not be deported, but about ensuring that we don’t allow an unnecessary detention practice that carries serious consequences for our community and our basic notion of justice.”

A detainee spends an average of 404 days in immigrant detention — a time during which the individual risks loss of employment and benefits, families may lose a primary breadwinner, children and elderly parents lose access to a caregiver and taxpayer dollars for housing costs total into the billions annually.

“And it’s not uncommon for detainees held without bail to prevail against deportation proceedings and ultimately be released after waiting months or years for a hearing on their lawful status,” Beiers said. “By that point, the effect of their absence has already rippled through the community.”

The cities and counties filing the brief provide critical services to their local residents and face increased and costly demands for social services when parents are detained, including foster care, health care, housing assistance and law enforcement involvement.

The other cities and counties joining in the  filing include the California counties of Santa Clara, Alameda, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose; the city of Austin, Texas; the city of Baltimore, Maryland; the town of Carrboro, North Carolina; the town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina; the city of Chicago, Illinois; the city of Cincinnati, Ohio; the city and county of Denver, Colorado; the District of Columbia; King County, Washington; the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota; the city of Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City, Utah; the City of Seattle, Washington; and the city of Tucson, Arizona.

Copies of the brief are available upon request.