Michael Tan,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project
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September 1, 2011

Cheikh Diop was detained for 1,072 days — or nearly three years — while challenging the government’s attempt to remove him to Senegal, a country he had fled 20 years earlier after being tortured by Senegalese military forces. Because of his prolonged detention, Mr. Diop lost his longtime job as a cook at TGI Friday’s and was separated from his four U.S. citizen children — all because the government refused to grant him the basic due process of a bond hearing.

Today, the ACLU won an important victory on behalf of Mr. Diop and hundreds of other detainees subjected to the government’s practice of detaining immigrants for prolonged periods of time without bond hearings —sometimes for years on end — while they defend their legal rights to remain in the country. In Diop v. ICE, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that Mr. Diop’s three-year long detention was unconstitutionally unreasonable and that Congress did not intend the immigration laws to require detention beyond a ‘reasonable period of time.’

Anything beyond that period, immigrants are entitled to a hearing where the government must prove that their continued detention is necessary. Today’s ruling is a crucial victory for the hundreds of detainees subject to long-term detention in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, both of which are in the Third Circuit’s jurisdiction, and will help convince other courts to extend protections to detainees across the country.

At the heart of the court’s ruling is a basic constitutional principle: that due process applies to everyone regardless of immigration status. As the Supreme Court has recognized, “[f]reedom from imprisonment lies at the heart of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause,” The court’s decision is also consistent with good public policy. The government annually wastes millions of taxpayer dollars — at the rate of $166 per detainee per day, or $60,590 per detainee per year — to detain immigrants who pose no flight risk or danger to the community. Bond hearings help ensure that harmless individuals are not locked up unnecessarily.

The court’s ruling is also timely. This spring Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced H.R. 1932, a bill that would eliminate bond hearings for many immigrants subject to long-term detention at time when the overwhelming majority of federal courts across the country have rejected such draconian practices as unconstitutional. Today’s ruling makes even clearer why Congress should reject this expansion of our immigration lock-up system.

Finally, this decision sends a clear message to the Obama administration that its policy of subjecting immigrants to prolonged mandatory detention violates due process and our immigration laws. The administration should use this decision as an opportunity to change course and to conduct an immediate individualized review of all prolonged detainees’ cases to determine if their detention is actually necessary.

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