ACLU of NJ Asks Court to Stop INS from Preventing Departure of Detainees

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
April 26, 2002 12:00 am

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NEWARK, NJ–The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today filed legal papers asking a state appeals court to stop the federal government from misinterpreting a court ruling to prevent detainees from leaving the country after their immigration cases have been resolved.

“The government has not only misconstrued the court’s order to serve its own purposes, but has invoked the order as a means to further deny the rights of detainees and further deny access to them,” said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

At issue is an April 19 New Jersey Appellate Division ruling that a decision ordering the government to reveal information about detainees held in the state could be stayed pending an appeal, on the condition that the Immigration and Naturalization Service maintain the status quo by not moving detainees jailed in the facilities covered by the order without their consent.

In addition to blocking the voluntary departure or deportation of detainees (at least one of whom had made it as far as JFK Airport.), the ACLU charged that the INS is also using the order to justify denying members of the media access to detainees for in-person interviews. With its motion, the ACLU submitted a number of affidavits from attorneys whose clients have been wrongfully denied the right to depart and a reporter who was denied a visit with a detainee based on the order.

“The government is using the court’s order to cause harm to the very people the order was issued to protect,” said Ronald K. Chen of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, a lead attorney for the ACLU. “There is nothing in the court’s order that mandates the continued detention of those who wish to leave,” he added. “By the government’s logic, an inmate who was seriously ill or injured could not be taken to a hospital because the court’s order does not specifically authorize it.”

The ACLU has asked the appeals court to lift the stay and release the names of the inmates and/or to clarify its order to ensure that detainees are not subject to unintended consequences or the INS’ misinterpretation of the order.

The INS move is but the latest government attempt to keep its actions shrouded in secrecy, the ACLU said. On April 18, the Justice Department issued a regulation forbidding non-federal authorities from releasing information about immigration detainees held in state and local facilities.

A state court had granted the ACLU access to records of INS detainees held in jails in Hudson and Passaic counties on March 27. In issuing the ruling — the first in the nation concerning detainees held since September 11– New Jersey Superior Court Judge Arthur D’Italia called secret arrests “odious to a democracy.”

In a conference with the judge last week, government attorneys said there were 108 INS detainees at Passaic County Jail and 226 at Hudson County Jail, although it was unclear how many were detained in connection with Sept. 11 investigations.

The ACLU legal papers filed today are online at

The ACLU’s April 19 response to the government’s motion to extend the stay of release of detainee information is online at

The ACLU has also filed a federal Freedom of Information Act request seeking information on detainees held around the country. ACLU briefs in that case will be filed next week; a hearing has not yet been scheduled. A web feature with up-to-date legal documents in the New Jersey and federal cases is online at

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