ACLU Argues That Prolonged Detention Of Immigrants In Pennsylvania Violates The Law

January 24, 2011 1:56 pm

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PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union today argued in two separate cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that the government is violating the law by detaining people for prolonged periods of time – sometimes for years on end – while they fight their immigration cases, without ever giving them a hearing to determine whether their detention is justified.

In one case, the ACLU argued on behalf of a man held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for nearly three years while challenging its attempt to remove him to Senegal, a country he fled 20 years earlier after being persecuted and tortured by Senegalese military forces. In the second case, the ACLU represented two lawful permanent U.S. residents released from custody last year after being held for lengthy periods of time by ICE in Pennsylvania prisons, and who are seeking to represent a class of other similarly detained immigrants in the state. At any one time, there are hundreds of other detainees in Pennsylvania subject to prolonged detention without a hearing, the vast majority of whom are forced to represent themselves and unable to vindicate their rights on their own.

“Locking people up for years without bond hearings is an affront to our core American values of fairness and justice,” said Judy Rabinovitz, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, who will be arguing the first case. “The U.S. Constitution protects everyone in this country, but immigrants across the nation are being denied the most basic due process protection by a government that is claiming unfettered authority to imprison them for as long as it takes to decide their cases.”

The plaintiff in the first case, Cheikh Diop, arrived in the U.S. at age 19 in 1990 after family members helped him flee Senegal in the face of political persecution and torture by Senegalese government officials. Several members of his family in Senegal were killed or disappeared, and Diop himself was detained and tortured with electrical shocks, sleep deprivation, extreme heat exposure, malnourishment and beatings so severe he suffered a broken jaw, permanent hip damage and at times was rendered unconscious. He settled in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he worked as a cook for many years, including nine years at TGI Friday’s where he was so valued he often was tapped to train new staff. The father of four U.S. citizen children, Diop is seeking a ruling from the court holding that no immigrant can be held for more than six months without the government being forced to justify further detention in a constitutionally adequate bond hearing.

The plaintiffs in the second case, Alexander Alli and Elliot Grenade, were released from custody last year after a federal district court judge ruled that their prolonged detention without bond hearings was unlawful. But the judge incorrectly ruled that a provision of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act bars class-wide declaratory relief. Alli, who is married to a U.S. citizen and came to the U.S. in 1990 from Ghana, was held for more than a year despite being eligible to apply for a waiver that would allow him to seek a new green card and remain in the country. Grenade, who has lived in the U.S. for nearly 30 years after coming from Trinidad and Tobago, was detained for more than two years.

“It makes no sense to lock up immigrants with legitimate challenges to deportation, who pose no threat to public safety and who are not flight risks,” said Michael Tan, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, who will be arguing the second case. “We spend millions of taxpayer dollars every year incarcerating people for no good reason.”

For years, the ACLU has charged that the prolonged detention of immigrants without bond hearings violates both the Immigration and Nationality Act and the right to due process. Over the last several years, the use of detention as an immigration enforcement strategy has increased exponentially. On an average day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security detains nearly 35,000 non-citizens in federal detention facilities and local jails across the country, over a threefold increase in the detention population since just a decade ago.

Along with Rabinovitz and Tan of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Alli and Grenade are represented by Vic Walczak and Valerie Burch of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm of Pepper Hamilton, LLP. Walczak and Burch are also co-counsel in the case on behalf of Diop.

More information about the ACLU’s work to combat unconstitutional prolonged detention, including additional information about the two cases being argued today, is available online at:

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