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Longtime Legal Resident Finally Gets His Day in Court

Michael Tan,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
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July 13, 2009

Last Friday, the federal district court in Buffalo, New York affirmed a basic constitutional principle: no one should be locked up for prolonged periods of time without a hearing as to whether they should be detained in the first place.

Longtime lawful permanent resident Errol Barrington Scarlett has spent more than five and a half years in immigration detention while fighting his deportation case. Now within 60 days, he will for the first time go before a judge to determine whether his detention is justified

Mr. Scarlett has lived in the United States for over thirty years, has four children and numerous siblings, all of whom are U.S. citizens, and is eligible for cancellation of removal—a permanent form of immigration relief. Yet the government has subjected him to years of mandatory detention while seeking to deport him based on a non-violent, decade-old drug possession offense for which he already served his sentence.

The government currently detains thousands of immigrants for months or even years, at great expense to taxpayers, while their deportation cases are being decided. Like Mr. Scarlett, many of these immigrants likely have a right to stay in the country based on, for example, their fear of persecution in their home countries or their ties to family and community here in the United States. Yet detention forces them to make the awful choice between fighting their cases from jail or giving up their rights to home and safe haven.

While the government should certainly not release someone when they have a reason to detain them, everyone has a right to their day in court.

Mr. Scarlett is represented by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and pro bono counsel from Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

You can listen to a podcast of Michael Tan interviewing Mr. Scarlett here: