No End in Sight - Detainee Profiles

Document Date: June 17, 2009

Saluja Thangaraja
Gary Anderson
Raymond Soeoth
Errol Barington Scarlett
Warren Joseph
Aleo Seh
Alexander Alli
Elliot Grenade

Country of Origin: SRI LANKA
Detained: 4+ YEARS

“I’m very happy. I’m relieved this day has finally come.”

Saluja Thangaraja, who was released from immigration detention on her 26th birthday, fled Sri Lanka in October 2001 after being tortured, beaten and held captive there. She was detained on the U.S.-Mexico border later that month on her way to reunite with relatives in Canada and was imprisoned in a federal detention center near San Diego for over four and a half years until March 2006.

During years of civil unrest and turmoil, Saluja and her family were displaced from their home and forced to live in a police camp after conflict broke out in their small town between the Sri Lankan Army and the separatist group, the Liberation Tigers. After finally returning to their home Saluja was twice abducted, beaten and tortured. Saluja went into hiding after her second abduction, and soon after the family decided she needed to leave the country to protect her life.

Despite finding that she had a credible fear of persecution, the government refused to release her from detention while she sought asylum before the immigration court, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), and ultimately the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In August 2004, after almost three years in detention, the Ninth Circuit found that Saluja faced a well-founded fear of persecution if she were returned to Sri Lanka and granted her “withholding of removal”—a form of relief that prohibits the government from returning her to that country. In addition, the Court found Saluja eligible for asylum, concluding that the immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals’ previous rejection of her claims lacked a “reasonable basis in law and fact.”

Despite this stinging rebuke, the government continued to doggedly pursue Saluja’s removal and to insist on her detention. Indeed, even after the immigration judge granted Saluja asylum in June 2005, the government appealed that decision to the BIA and refused to release Saluja during this process.

Saluja finally gained her freedom in March 2006, but only after the ACLU stepped in and petitioned the district court for her release.

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Country of Origin: JAMAICA

Detained: 2+ YEARS

Only five days in jail, more than two years of immigration detention.

Gary Anderson, a lawful permanent resident suffering from schizophrenia and mild mental retardation, came to the United States from Jamaica as a teenager in 1984. The government sought to deport Gary in 2007 for two misdemeanor convictions for possessing a small amount of marijuana, for which he served a total of five days in jail. Even though Gary posed no danger or flight risk and eligible for relief from deportation, he spent over two years in immigration detention while fighting his case. During this time he never received a bond hearing since his misdemeanor convictions subjected him to “mandatory detention.”

Gary’s detention caused his family, which includes numerous U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, tremendous hardship. His detention caused particular hardship to his mother, who is also mentally ill and previously relied on him for household help and emotional support.

Ultimately, because of his strong family ties and other reasons, an immigration judge granted Gary a permanent form of immigration relief that allows him to remain in the United States as a lawful permanent resident, and Gary was finally allowed to go home.

Gary was represented by attorneys from the Legal Aid Society of New York and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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Country of Origin: INDONESIA

Detained: 2.5 YEARS

“I can’t understand why in America I must choose between two evils: going back to Indonesia to face persecution or being detained while I fight for asylum”

In 1999, when Reverend Raymond Soeoth and his wife fled Indonesia to escape persecution for practicing their faith, they could not have anticipated the treatment they would receive in the United States. Initially, Reverend Soeoth was allowed to work in the U.S. while applying for asylum and eventually became the assistant minister for a church. Yet when his asylum application was denied in 2004, the government arrested him at his home and took him into detention.

Even though Reverend Soeoth posed no danger or flight risk, and had never been arrested or convicted of any crime, he spent over two and a half years in an immigration detention center while the court decided whether or not to reconsider his asylum claim. During that time, he never received a hearing to determine whether his detention was justified. While in detention, Reverend Soeoth was isolated from his family and community as well as his congregation. His wife was unable to maintain the store that the couple had jointly run and she was forced to shut it down.

In February 2007, Reverend Soeoth finally received a bond hearing as a result of a successful habeas corpus petition filed by the ACLU. Following that hearing Mr. Soeth was released on a $7,500 bond. Although his asylum case was subsequently denied, the government granted him “deferred action” status, a temporary form of relief that can be renewed annually on a discretionary basis, as part of a settlement reached because the government had subjected him to illegal forcible drugging during his detention.

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Country of Origin: JAMAICA

Detained: November 2003 – Present

After five and a half years in detention, finally a bond hearing.

Errol Barrington Scarlett, a longtime lawful permanent resident, has been imprisoned for more than five and a half years while challenging the government’s efforts to remove him to Jamaica, a country he left over 30 years ago. Errol has four U.S. citizen children, two U.S. citizen grandchildren and numerous U.S. citizen siblings. At the time he was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in November 2003, Errol was beginning to rebuild his life after having served three years and ten months for a drug possession conviction. He had enrolled in a drug treatment program and was employed with his brother’s real estate business. Yet, 17 months after completing his criminal sentence, he was summoned to the immigration office, arrested, placed in removal proceedings and imprisoned once again – this time for immigration purposes.

Errol has now spent much more time imprisoned for immigration purposes than he served for the conviction that forms the basis for his deportation proceedings. Indeed, even after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, finding him eligible to apply for permanent relief from deportation and sending his case back to the immigration court to adjudicate his claim, the government refused even to consider his release on the grounds that he remains subject to “mandatory detention.”

Due to the efforts of the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and pro bono attorneys from Seyfarth Shaw LLP, a federal court ordered that the government had to provide Errol with the most basic element of due process: a hearing where the government must show that his continued imprisonment is necessary.

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Country of Origin: TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Detained: 3+ YEARS

“I joined the Army because I love the United States; I am very disappointed that I have been treated this way, but I still love this country.”

Warren Joseph is a lawful permanent resident of the United States and a decorated veteran of the first Gulf War. He moved to the United States from Trinidad nearly 22 years ago and has five U.S. citizen children, a U.S. citizen mother and a U.S. citizen sister.

A few months after coming to the U.S., when he was 21 years old, Warren enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in combat positions in the Persian Gulf, was injured in the course of duty and received numerous awards and commendations recognizing his valiant service in that war, including returning to battle after being injured and successfully rescuing his fellow soldiers.

Like many Gulf War veterans, Warren returned from the war with symptoms that were only later diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). His sister recalls that she “was shocked to see how much Warren had changed.” He was anxious, had recurring nightmares about killing people, and would wake up in a cold sweat. He became withdrawn and thought about suicide constantly. In 2003, he drank rust remover and had to be hospitalized.

In 2001, Warren unlawfully purchased a handgun to sell to individuals to whom he owed money. He fully cooperated with an investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and his actions were not deemed sufficiently serious to warrant incarceration. Two years later, however, suffering from partial paralysis and debilitating depression, Warren violated his probation by moving to his mother’s house and failing to inform his probation officer. He served six months for the probation violation. Upon his release, in 2004, he was placed in removal proceedings and subjected to mandatory immigration detention.

Warren remained in immigration detention for more than three years while he fought his deportation. During his entire period of incarceration, Warren was never granted a hearing to decide whether his detention was justified. Indeed, even after the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that he was entitled to apply for relief from removal, and remanded his case back to the immigration court, the government continuted to subject him to mandatory detention.

In May 2007, the ACLU, ACLU of New Jersey and Law Offices of Claudia Slovinsky filed a lawsuit in federal district court demanding Warren’s release. Shortly thereafter, an immigration judge granted his application for cancellation of removal—a permanent form of immigration relief. The government decided not to appeal and Warren was finally allowed to return home.

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Country of Origin: LIBERIA
Detained: 5 MONTHS

Single father subjected to five months of mandatory detention before winning his immigration case

Aleo Seh is a lawful permanent resident who came to this country as a refugee from the Liberian Civil War when he was fifteen years old. In Liberia, Aleo was kidnapped, tortured, and forced to become a child soldier by rebel militias and survived by escaping to a refugee camp in Guinea. Since his escape, he has has built a life in the United States for himself and his four young U.S. citizen daughters, two of whom he has full custody as a single parent.

Nonetheless, the government sought to deport Aleo based on a minor misdemeanor offense for making a false police report and a minor drug paraphernalia offense for both of which he received no jail time. Even though Aleo posed no danger or flight risk, and even though he had a strong claim for permanent relief from removal, the government refused even to consider his release from detention while he fought his case on the grounds that his misdemeanor convictions subjected him to “mandatory detention.” Thus, Aleo was forced to choose between abandoning his right to remain in the United States and returning to Liberia or enduring an indeterminate period of imprisonment.

Ultimately, through the work of the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC), Aleo won permanent relief from removal based on his strong ties to his family and community. The government chose not to appeal and Aleo was able to return to his family. His five months of detention, however, caused tremendous hardship to him and his small children. It also resulted in him losing his job as a machine operator.

For more information on PIRC, see

Country of Origin: GHANA
Detained: August 2008 – Present

Alli (center) with his children (from left to right): Michael, Christine, and Tobi.

Alexander Alli came to the U.S. from Ghana in 1990 in search of a better life and became a lawful permanent resident in 1996. In time, he started a successful real estate company in the Bronx. He married a U.S. citizen and they have three U.S. citizen children together. He is a devout Christian and active in their local church.

At a low point in his life, Alexander participated in a major credit card fraud and ultimately served approximately a year and a half in jail. Now the government is trying to deport him for this crime and has subjected him to mandatory immigration detention during this process.

Alexander has a strong claim for relief from deportation based on his wife’s status as a U.S. citizen. Indeed, an immigration judge has already found that he is eligible to reapply for lawful permanent resident status, which would allow him to remain in the country. However, it could take more than a year for the immigration authorities to process his wife’s visa petition. Thus, even though he has already spent 11 months in immigration detention and poses no danger or flight risk – he was released on bond pending trial on his criminal charges and self surrendered – the government maintains that he can be locked up until his case has been decided, no matter how long that takes, and without ever receiving a bond hearing.

The ACLU, ACLU of Pennsylvania and pro bono attorneys from Pepper Hamilton LLP are representing Alexander in class action lawsuit filed on May 26, 2009, in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The lawsuit seeks a bond hearing where the government must demonstrate that his continued detention is justified.

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Country of Origin: TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Detained: September 2007-present

Fighting to remain in the country that has been home for the last 28 years

Elliot Grenade, a lawful permanent resident, left Trinidad and Tobago in 1981 and has lived in the U.S. for nearly 28 years. He has a longtime domestic partner, two U.S. citizen children and an elderly U.S. citizen mother. Prior to his imprisonment, he was active in his church community.

Elliot developed a drug problem in his youth and has struggled to get clean. The government is seeking his deportation based on a drug sale offense from more than ten years ago, for which he served approximately a year in jail. Elliot has since spent close to two years in immigration detention fighting the government’s efforts to deport him. Most of this time – approximately 18 months – is due to the fact that the government sent the briefing schedule in his immigration case to the wrong address.

Elliot’s detention has caused great hardship for his family – in particular, his aging mother and his 11-year-old daughter, who suffers from seizures and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

During the entire length of his detention, Elliot has received no bond hearing to determine whether his detention is justified.

The ACLU, ACLU of Pennsylvania, and pro bono attorneys from Pepper Hamilton LLP are representing Elliot in class action lawsuit filed on May 26, 2009, in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The lawsuit seeks a bond hearing where the government must demonstrate that his continued detention is justified.

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