Three Charlotte immigration court judges are routinely denying bond hearings to people in Department of Homeland Security custody, two immigrant rights groups claim in a federal lawsuit filed yesterday.

The suit, filed by the American Immigration Council and Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, asks that the judges be made to conduct bond hearings, and that their past decisions not to be vacated.

Among the defendants named are Charlotte judges Stuart Couch, Barry Pettinato and Theresa Holmes-Simmons and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

When a person is taken into Department of Homeland Security custody, the agency determines if the detainee should be released on bond, or some other condition. In most cases the person is entitled to a bond hearing in which that determination would be reviewed by a judge, who will consider whether the detainee is a flight risk or a danger to the public.

But, the lawsuit says, three of Charlotte’s four immigration judges regularly do not conduct bond hearings if the person detained has been transferred out of the Carolinas, saying they lack jurisdiction. Couch and Pettinato, the groups claim, “rubber stamp bond orders with an actual stamp.”

The lawsuit says this forces detainees to file a new bonding hearing request after they are transferred, prolonging their incarceration and incurring legal costs.

“Noncitizens – including longtime lawful permanent residents and asylum seekers – can and do remain needlessly detained for additional weeks without a bond hearing until they finally have an opportunity to appear before a different immigration judge in another immigration court,” the suit says. “This protracted incarceration is not justified and is wholly violative of the government’s statutory, regulatory and constitutional obligation to conduct bond hearings as expeditiously as possible after depriving someone of their liberty.”

The Charlotte immigration court hears cases from North and South Carolina and has gained a reputation as one of the tougher immigration courts in the country for its judges’ high denial rates of asylum cases.