In its zeal to deport anyone, the Trump administration has jailed a man that the government has tried and failed to deport in the past. Fortunately for those of us who care about constitutional rights — not to mention basic human decency — the Supreme Court has built a wall around the government’s ability to do such a thing.
In 1999, Mamadu Balde fled Sierra Leone, which was in the middle of a civil war that had started in 1991 and didn’t end until 2002. Mamadu’s hometown was occupied by rebels, the Revolutionary United Front, and his home was burned to the ground. In the fire, he lost all of his personal documentation, and he was separated from his parents and his sister during the occupation.
He never saw them again.
Mamadu fled to New York City, seeking asylum in the United States. Despite the great tragedy he had experienced, the Bush administration and then the Obama administration opposed his application for asylum, and the courts agreed. When his appeals ran out in 2012, he was detained by ICE and incarcerated for more than nine months as the administration tried to deport him.
But a funny thing happened on the way to deportation.
Sierra Leone had no record that Mamadu was a citizen and, thus, refused to issue travel documents. The United States couldn’t send him back. Eventually, he was released from jail, with requirements to check in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement every six months.
At that point, Mamadu Balde went on to live a productive and happy life with his wife, a U.S. citizen, and the couple settled in West Virginia. He was gainfully employed, and he paid taxes. He provided financial support to his niece and nephew after the death of their mother, Mamadu’s sister. And he checked in with ICE every six months, as required.
But something changed this year.
When Mamadu reported to ICE as scheduled in April, he was told he would have to report to a new ICE agent in June. When he reported in June, the new agent told him he had no business in this country and that, if he wasn’t gone by August, the agent would “lock him up.” A week later, the agent told him to report again. When Mamadu dutifully reported, the agent told him that his supervisors had told him to detain Mamadu. They gave no reason. Documents subsequently obtained from ICE justify the detention by “changed circumstances in policy.”
The government could keep Mamadu, a law-abiding man, behind bars forever.
A week later, Sierra Leone officials yet again declined to accept Mamadu back. Mamadu has been held at the York County Prison since then. He has spent over 2 months indefinitely detained behind bars.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm of JBM Legal in Pittsburgh are representing Mamadu and have filed a federal lawsuit against ICE and the warden of the York County prison. By holding Mamadu, ICE and YCP have engaged in an unlawful detention and a violation of his Fifth Amendment right to due process.
In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Zadvydas v. Davis that the U.S. government cannot detain noncitizens who cannot be deported because their native country refuses to accept them. Otherwise, the court ruled, the government could detain people indefinitely, which is unconstitutional. Since Sierra Leone has repeatedly refused to accept Mamadu, including in the past two months, the U.S. government has no legal basis to detain him and the detention is, thus, unconstitutional. If it weren’t, the government could keep Mamadu, a law-abiding man, behind bars forever.
Nevertheless, the Trump administration is willfully defying the Supreme Court’s ruling.
There is no good reason for Mamadu to be incarcerated right now. It was unfair that he served nine and a half months in 2012 when the Obama administration couldn’t secure his removal. It is even more unfair that the Trump administration has jailed him again, especially because it is crystal clear that he can’t be deported and that he has demonstrated over the past five years that he is a good, family-supporting, hard-working member of the community.
With this new lawsuit, we intend to restore Mamadu to his rightful place in the community and ensure the government cannot take someone’s liberty when they’ve done nothing wrong.