Immigrants’ lawsuit challenges detention

In a class-action lawsuit filed on Sept. 25, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and the Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic charged that ICE routinely holds immigrants longer than six months in defiance of the Supreme Court’s June 2001 ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis. “These people have been kept away from their families, their communities and their lives for years–without even a hearing to determine if their prolonged detention is justified,” said ACLU staff attorney Ahilan Arulanantham.

Two of the six plaintiffs named in the suit were released after the suit was filed. On Oct. 6, the ACLU asked US District Judge Terry Hatter to order the immediate release under supervision of the remaining four named plaintiffs, or grant them bond hearings. Arulanantham says immigration officials purposely avoid defending their policy in court, releasing only detainees whose attorneys file challenges. In order to force the issue to a hearing and prevent ICE from simply releasing the named petitioners and moving to dismiss the case as moot, the ACLU included as additional plaintiffs any unknown detainees in the same circumstances.

ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice said the Zadvydas ruling does not apply to immigrants who are fighting deportation. The agency is required to detain immigrants convicted of certain felonies or considered to be flight risks or threats to public safety or national security, Kice said.

Arulanantham said Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion in the Zadvydas case applies to a much broader group of immigrants. Arulanantham said that in any case two of his clients, Ebrahim Mussa and John Rasheed, were no longer fighting deportation; judges barred their removal because they might be tortured in their homelands, but the government is prolonging the legal battle with appeals. As for the mandatory detention of convicted immigrants, Arulanantham said Mussa and Rudolph Stepanian were convicted of crimes but have been released; only one of the four remaining plaintiffs has any prior convictions.

Niels Frenzen, director of the University of Southern California (USC) Law Immigration Clinic, said he believed the Supreme Court “was probably looking at people whose appeals were completed” in its Zadvydas ruling. But if the immigration agency “is cutting people loose just because the case is filed,” perhaps government lawyers have concluded the ruling does apply to these immigrants, he added. (Los Angeles Times, Oct. 10; Washington Post, Oct. 10 from AP; ACLU Southern California News Release, Oct. 9)

Raid at Yuma construction site
On Oct. 10, about 50 agents from ICE and the Border Patrol, with backup from local police and a helicopter, raided the construction site for a new high school in Yuma, Arizona. The agents detained seven workers for questioning and served search warrants on the offices of a site contractor. All those detained were employed by contractors working on the $50 million Gila Ridge High School. Five of the seven workers gave up their right to appear before a judge and agreed to be repatriated, said ICE spokesperson Russell Ahr. The other two will face deportation hearings. Their nationalities were not given. [AP 10/12/06]

From Immigration News Briefs, Oct. 21

See our last posts on the immigration crackdown and the struggle for the border.