ACLU Argues Lawsuit Challenging Prolonged Detention Of Immigrants In Pennsylvania

August 4, 2009 12:00 am

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Group Launches Video And Web Resource On Prolonged Detention Of Immigrants In U.S.

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HARRISBURG, PA – The American Civil Liberties Union is arguing in a federal court in Pennsylvania today that the government is violating the law by detaining people for prolonged periods of time – sometimes for years – while they fight their immigration cases, without ever giving them a hearing on whether their detention is justified.

“Locking people up for years without bond hearings flies in the face of the core American values of fairness and justice,” said Judy Rabinovitz, Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, who is arguing before the court today. “We don’t live in a country that has unfettered authority to imprison people without hearings for as long as it takes to decide their cases. Our Constitution guarantees every person a day in court, but many immigrants are denied this most basic due process protection.”

In today’s oral argument in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the ACLU is representing two immigrants, Elliot Grenade and Alexander Alli, both lawful permanent U.S. residents, who have been held indefinitely without hearings in Pennsylvania prisons while they pursue legitimate legal challenges to deportation. Grenade and Alli are seeking to represent a class of other similarly detained immigrants in Pennsylvania. The ACLU charges that the prolonged detention of immigrants without bond hearings violates both the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and due process.

Grenade, who is from Trinidad and Tobago, has lived in the U.S. for nearly 28 years as a lawful permanent resident. His two children, domestic partner and his mother are all U.S. citizens. Grenade has spent nearly two years in immigration detention fighting the government’s efforts to deport him based on a drug sale offense that took place over 10 years ago. During the entire length of Grenade’s detention, he has never received a bond hearing to determine whether his detention is justified.

Alli, who came to the U.S. in 1990 from Ghana, is a lawful permanent resident married to a U.S. citizen with whom he has three children. He owns an established real estate company in the Bronx, New York. For the past 11 months, Alli has been held in detention while challenging the government’s efforts to deport him because of convictions related to major credit card fraud. An immigration judge has found that Alli is eligible to apply for a waiver that would allow him to seek a new green card and remain in the country. However, Alli has never had a chance to present this information in a bond hearing so a judge can determine whether his detention is justified.

Over the last several years, the use of detention as an immigration enforcement strategy has increased exponentially. On an average day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detains roughly 33,400 non-citizens in federal detention facilities and local jails across the country, over a threefold increase in the detention population since just a decade ago.

“Many immigrants in detention have substantial challenges to deportation and pose no danger to society or flight risk, yet they are unable to endure the prospect of prolonged detention and end up abandoning their cases,” said Vic Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, which is co-counsel on the case. “It makes no sense to lock people up for years while their immigration cases wind their way through the courts. We are spending millions of tax dollars incarcerating people for no purpose.”

The ACLU is launching a Web page today that features a video, profiles and podcasts of several immigrants the ACLU and other organizations have represented, including lawful permanent residents and asylum seekers, who have been subjected to prolonged detention without meaningful review.

Lawyers on the case include Rabinovitz, Michael Tan and Farrin Anello of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Walczak and Valerie Burch of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Thomas Schmidt III, Kathleen Mullen and Frederick Alcaro of Pepper Hamilton LLP.

The new ACLU Web page on prolonged detention of immigrants, “No End in Sight: Immigrants Locked Up for Years Without Hearings,” can be found online at:

More information on the case Alli et al v. Decker et al is available online at:

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