ACLU Challenges Indefinite Detention in Southern California Facilities

October 9, 2006 12:00 am

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Groups Ask Federal Judge to Order Immediate Release of Immigrants Held Illegally for Years

LOS ANGELES – Acting on behalf of four immigrant detainees who are being held indefinitely in Southern California, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and the Stanford Law School Immigrants’ Rights Clinic today said they have asked a federal judge to put an immediate end to the illegal detention.

“These people have been kept away from their families, their communities, and their lives for years — as many as four years or more — without even a hearing to determine if their prolonged detention is justified,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, an ACLU of Southern California staff attorney. “Many of them are refugees, and others are immigrants with U.S. citizen spouses, children and full lives in Southern California. Yet they are being indefinitely detained while they fight their immigration cases. This is not what America stands for.”

On Friday, the ACLU asked U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter to order the release of the four detainees, or provide each of them individual hearings. The action comes after the groups filed a class action lawsuit on September 25 on behalf of people who have been held arbitrarily for years while fighting their immigration cases.

In the lawsuit, Mussa v. Gonzales, the ACLU noted that both the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that indefinite detention is prohibited. “Six years after the Supreme Court effectively banned unreasonably prolonged and indefinite detention in the immigration context, the government continues to engage in a policy of de facto indefinite detention,” the lawsuit stated.

One detainee, Reverend Raymond Soeoth, is a Chinese Christian who fled Indonesia with his wife in 1999 to escape persecution for practicing his faith. He was initially allowed to work in the United States while applying for asylum, and eventually became the assistant minister for a church in the Riverside area. However when his asylum application was denied in 2004, the government detained him and has held him ever since.

Rev. Soeoth is seeking to reopen his asylum case based in part on concern that he will face persecution from Indonesia’s new government. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has prevented his removal from the United States until his case is decided, but the government refuses to release him from the Terminal Island Federal Detention Center, where he has been held for more than two years.

“I came to this country because it is a land of human rights and freedom, but now I have been inside this jail for two years, even though I have never committed any crime,” Rev. Soeoth said. “This is very hard for my wife and for my parish. I hope the government will let me out.”

“It is illegal for the government to incarcerate immigrants for months on end without even a hearing. Immigration cases can take years to resolve. Prolonged incarceration deprives immigrants of their freedom, contact with their families and the ability to earn a living,” said Jayashri Srikantiah, associate professor and director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School.

The ACLU has won the release of nearly a dozen people who were arbitrarily detained, many of whom were held for years. Most were released once the ACLU filed individual lawsuits, but because many other people remain detained and do not have lawyers to challenge their unlawful detention, a class action lawsuit was necessary, Arulanantham said. One detainee plaintiff in Mussa v. Gonzales has already been released since the lawsuit was filed.

“The government’s detention policy is not only unlawful and inhumane, it is also irrational,” said Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The government is spending millions of dollars locking up people whose detention serves no purpose. These individuals are ready to comply with conditions of supervision, and even electronic monitoring if necessary. There is no reason for them to be locked up for years while their cases make their way through the courts.”

The complaint is available online at

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