ACLU Lawsuit Over Immigrant Detentions Could Affect Detainees Being Held in Central Falls

June 17, 2019 11:45 am

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A recently-filed ACLU class-action lawsuit challenging the government’s practice of denying due process to detained immigrants could directly affect the continued jailing of some of the immigrant detainees now being held at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls.

The lawsuit, filed last week by the ACLU’s Massachusetts and New Hampshire affiliates, is on behalf of immigrants who are currently jailed across New England due to flawed detention hearings in which the detainee, rather than the government, has been required to bear the burden of proof as to whether they should be detained. That practice, the suit argues, is unlawful. As the lawsuit explains:

“Liberty is supposed to be the norm throughout the American legal system, and detention a carefully limited exception. In immigration proceedings, however, this principle is reversed. Although these are civil proceedings, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is jailing numerous alleged noncitizens . . . simply for failing to affirmatively prove, to the satisfaction of an immigration judge, that they should be free. . . Unless this Court intervenes, ICE will continue to imprison the Petitioners and others like them without ever being required to prove that this imprisonment is necessary to protect public safety or ensure their appearance in immigration court.”

The lawsuit was filed as a class-action to encompass all detainees, including those held at Wyatt, who are “subject to the jurisdiction of the Boston Immigration Court.” The suit seeks a court order declaring that these detainees are “entitled to a bond hearing at which the government bears the burden to justify continued detention by proving by clear and convincing evidence that the detainee is a danger to others or a flight risk, and, even if he or she is, that no … combination of conditions will reasonably assure the detainee’s future appearance and the safety of the community…”

An agreement entered earlier this year between ICE and Wyatt to house detainees arrested at the Southern border generated enormous controversy, protests and litigation. Wyatt had not housed immigrant detainees since 2008, when Hiu Lui “Jason” Ng, an ICE detainee, died in Wyatt custody following months of abuse and lack of medical care. After Ng’s death, the ACLU of Rhode Island successfully sued the Wyatt facility and ICE for “cruel, inhumane, malicious and sadistic behavior” and multiple violations of Ng’s constitutional rights. At the time, ICE also cancelled its contract with Wyatt to hold immigrant detainees, a decision that was reversed a few months ago.

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