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Aleo’s Story: A Refugee and Single Father Is Locked Up for Five Months Before Winning His Immigration Case

Michael Tan,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
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August 18, 2009

Today the ACLU released a new interview with Aleo Seh, a single father who was subjected to five months of mandatory detention before winning his immigration case. Aleo is a longtime green card holder who came to this country as a refugee from the Liberian Civil War when he was 15 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.

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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, 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.

Aleo’s interview appears on the ACLU’s new website, No End in Sight, featuring the stories of the many other individuals who have been subjected to arbitrary and prolonged immigration detention, at unimaginable cost to themselves, their families, and their communities. The Obama administration has professed its commitment to “smart enforcement” as it looks toward comprehensive immigration reform, with a priority on violent offenders and people who pose threats to national security. If the government is serious about that commitment, it needs to take a hard look at who it locks up and puts into removal proceedings. Aleo, and the many immigrants like him, simply aren’t priorities for enforcement.