Immigration Detainees Will No Longer Be Shackled in San Francisco Courts

At last, some good news to report on the immigration reform front, although it’s only a sliver of glad tidings: in San Francisco, immigration detainees are no longer required to wear shackles in court. This dehumanizing and humiliating requirement is in place in courts across the country, forcing detainees who don’t pose a considerable risk to shuffle into court in chains, wear them throughout the hearing and leave it the same way. While this only applies to San Francisco, activists hope it will be extended to other regions as well.

Why is this important? First of all, we’re not talking about handcuffs (which are already uncomfortable and humiliating to wear). We are talking about shackles, which include heavy wrist and ankle hardware along with chains. Shackles are uncomfortable to move, stand, or sit in, and they are designed as a tool of power and control; it’s difficult for prisoners to pose much danger when they’re shackled. As a legitimate law enforcement tool for defendants who pose a flight risk or danger to others, shackles are used in some court settings, but when immigration authorities required their use for all detainees regardless of their profile, this made a statement.

Detainees felt dehumanized by being placed in shackles and treated as serious, dangerous criminals. Moreover, they argued that having to wear shackles in court changed the way judges perceived them. While judges strive to be impartial, they’re influenced by what they see in court, and there’s a significant difference between a shackled prisoner and one dressed neatly and sitting attentively through the hearing. Shackles were adversely affecting outcomes in immigration cases, making them a tool of injustice as well as a human rights violation.

The decision to drop the requirement for shackles (some detainees will still be shackled, it’s simply not mandatory anymore) is the result of a settlement with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the City and County of San Francisco, applying only to San Francisco’s immigration court. It’s not surprising to see San Francisco leading the way on this issue, given that the city designated itself as a Sanctuary City in 1989, long before the current increase in anti-immigrant sentiment and harsh crackdown on immigrants through repressive laws.

Under the city’s ordinance, city employees cannot ask about or share a person’s immigration status, may not deny or alter services on the basis of immigration status and may not cooperate with ICE on immigration investigations unless compelled to do so by federal law. Last year, Supervisor John Avalos recommended extending the city’s progressive policies even further, suggesting that San Francisco join other cities around the country in refusing to comply with ICE holds.

San Francisco is in a prime position to fight for immigration rights: as a major airline hub located next to a major port (Oakland), San Francisco is home to an incredibly diverse population that includes many undocumented immigrants, including people who want to seek permanent residency and citizenship. By working to establish fundamental human rights in its borders, the city is trying to build bridges of communication and trust with immigrants, making them feel like safer, more valued members of San Francisco’s vibrant landscape.

Photo credit: Nevele Otseog.


Franck R.
Frank R3 years ago

Thank you

SJ A3 years ago

I have mixed feelings on this issue, while I think it was a matter of sheer luck for someone to have been born in a prosperous country and empathise with their situation I still think that entering a country illegally is not the way to go.

Uncontrolled and illegal immigration harms the nation's resources, infrastructure, welfare and working conditions of the most vulnerable citizens thanks to the exploitation of cheap labour and only favours corporations and wealthy employers who are completely insulated from the 'real' world of the common people.

Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se3 years ago


Billie C.
Billie C3 years ago

criminals are shackled in court for everybody's protection. they are criminals so they should have to wear them just like citizens charged with crimes have to wear them. they don't deserve special treatment and that's the problem they think they are special by breaking our laws and then think they have rights. they have no rights other than to be sent back to where they came from. they are illegal.

Ana Marija R.
ANA MARIJA R3 years ago

Thank you for the article & some comments.

Carol S.
Carol S3 years ago

Shackles sure seems like overkill to me.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W3 years ago

Very interesting info

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobetz3 years ago

Thank you

Berny p.
Berny p3 years ago

"Detainees felt dehumanized by being placed in shackles" Easy enough to avoid it.

Don't sneak into the country illegally.

Doesn't having criminals smuggle you into the country make you feel dehumanized ?

Berny p.
Berny p3 years ago

If you do not enter a country legally you are in fact a criminal...NOT an immigrant.

These illegals are ruining and curtailing the possibilities of legal immigration for millions of people.

The harsh Visa requirements for Latin countries is in place because of these idiots.

The more that enter illegally or legally and don't leave the harder the restrictions are on those that want to do so legally.

"These people" are screwing The US population and the people in their home country as well by this activity.

It is time for it to stop. Treat them like the cross border criminals that they are