NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a habeas petition seeking the release of Warren Joseph, a Gulf War veteran and immigrant from Trinidad who is a permanent resident of the United States. Joseph has been illegally locked up for more than three years in immigration custody in a New Jersey prison.
“This is no way to treat a man who placed his life on the line for our country,” said ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director Ed Barocas. “He must be released or else given a hearing where the government must justify its decision to imprison him for so long.”
Joseph served in the U.S. Army for eight years including a tour in Iraq during the first Gulf War, where he received multiple commendations. Upon his return, Joseph suffered physical and psychological symptoms similar to those experienced by other gulf war veterans, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. In 2001, he was convicted after pleading guilty to transporting or receiving firearms without a license. After cooperating fully with authorities, Joseph was sentenced to probation. He later served six months for violating his probation.
Upon his release in 2004, Joseph was taken into custody by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) pending removal proceedings and has been at Hudson County Correctional Facility in South Kearny, N.J., ever since. Joseph has been detained for three years while the government has pursued his removal based on his single 2001 conviction - six times the amount of his six-month sentence for violating his probation.
“I joined the Army because I love the United States,” said Joseph, who moved to the United States nearly 20 years ago and joined the Army at the age of 21. “I am very disappointed that I have been treated this way, but I still love this country. When I am released, I will do my best to see to it that this does not happen to another veteran.”
Eight months ago, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals granted Joseph’s Petition for Review, agreeing with his argument that his firearms conviction was not an “aggravated felony” which triggers mandatory removal from the United States.
In light of his war veteran status and his strong family ties in the U.S., the ACLU said Joseph has a good chance of remaining in the United States either through naturalization (becoming a U.S. citizen) or cancellation of removal (which would halt his deportation). Despite this, the government has refused to release Joseph into supervised custody.
“Unfortunately, there are thousands of immigrants like Mr. Joseph who have been unlawfully detained, many for years at a time, in immigration custody across the United States,” said Judy Rabinovitz, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Such detention goes against the fundamental notions of due process to which citizens and non-citizens alike are entitled in this country.”
Joseph has never been allowed a full hearing to decide whether his detention is lawful. The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that immigrant detention violates due process unless it is reasonably related to a valid government purpose. The U.S. Supreme Court has also held that when detention is prolonged, it must be accompanied by a sufficiently strong justification. BIA and ICE have provided no such justification.
The ACLU and the ACLU of New Jersey filed the petition today in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J. The petition calls for Joseph to be released under conditions of supervision or to have an immediate hearing where officials must prove that his detention is justified. In addition to Rabinovitz and Barocas, other attorneys in Mr. Joseph’s case are ACLU Staff Attorney Amrit Singh, ACLU of New Jersey Staff Attorney Jeanne Locicero, and Claudia Slovinsky and Grace Meng of the Law Offices of Claudia Slovinsky.
The habeas petition in Joseph v. Avila et al is available online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/detention/29807lgl20070522.html
The brief is at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/detention/29807lgl20070522.html