Arizona immigrants granted bail after Supreme Court agrees law denying it should be thrown out

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TUCSON, Arizona — The cases before a Tucson judge on Wednesday seemed fairly routine: Two men charged with drug offenses asking him to grant them bail.

What stood out, however, was that the two men had a right to a bail hearing in the first place.

Last month, a federal appeals court threw out a 2006 Arizona law denying bail to immigrants in the country illegally.

That cleared the way for the proceedings in Tucson and elsewhere.

Miguel Angel Valenzuela and Juan Angel-Carmona Pineda were arrested on Nov. 13, the same day the Supreme Court let stand the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to halt enforcement of the law.

Pineda was accused of transporting more than 100 pounds of marijuana. Valenzuela faces charges relating to the alleged possession of a pound of pot.

The judge noted the new rules imposed by the courts as he granted the two men bail, even though he set it so high that they will likely be unable to come up with the money.

"Essentially we have the 9th Circuit decision still standing and the way I view it, it's binding on me," Judge José Luis Castillo said.

Castillo set Valenzuela's bail at $50,000, cash only, and Carmona Pineda's was set at $75,000, also cash only.

Defense attorneys and immigrant advocates who say the law is unconstitutional contend many immigrants who wound up in jail without bond had committed offenses such as using a fake identity to work or carrying small amounts of drugs.

Proposition 100 was passed amid a series of immigration crackdowns in Arizona. It denied bail to immigrants in the country illegally who have been charged with felonies such as shoplifting, aggravated identity theft, sexual assault and murder.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has said it protects the public from serious offenders who would not likely show up for court again if let loose.

His spokesman, Jerry Cobb, said the state will continue to defend the law and will file an appeal with the Supreme Court, asking justices to hear the case and make a ruling on the law.

"The nightmare scenario is that the drug cartel sends somebody into the U.S. to commit a hit on somebody and they murder somebody," Cobb said. "And the cartel comes and bails them out because that's nothing, that's chump change for a drug cartel."

Maricopa County Deputy Public Defender Mikel Steinfeld said it's hard to keep track of how many immigrants were held without bond since the law passed because there are several organizations that provide public defense and some immigrants hire private attorneys. He and a colleague estimated that as many as 300 prisoners, possibly more, were affected in Maricopa County.

"I think we're both optimistic that our clients who happen to be illegal immigrants will be treated on a more equitable level with the remainder of clients," Steinfeld said.

In Pima County, defense attorneys say local judges stopped enforcing the law when the appeals court put it on hold a month ago.

Lawyer Margo Cowan, who represented the two men in court in Tucson, has handled the bulk of no-bail cases and says in many instances, judges didn't enforce the rule in the first place because it was too difficult to prove that a defendant was actually residing in the country illegally.

"In Pima County, these judges tend to be very fair and unbiased and evaluate the case for what it is," Cowan said.

But there were exceptions. Judge Castillo noted that until recently, judges in Pima County Justice Court had not been on the same page about whether the no-bail rule was enforceable.

In Maricopa County, judges have been directed to stop enforcing the rule. Cobb estimates that upward of 450 defendants will now clog the courts calendar with hearings seeking bail.

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