Indefinite Detention by INS Overturned

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
July 12, 1999 12:00 am

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SEATTLE — Five judges from the U.S. District Court in Seattle have ruled that the government cannot indefinitely detain aliens with criminal records who are awaiting deportation to countries that refuse to accept them, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington said today.

The unanimous ruling came in response to a challenge to the continuing Immigration and Naturalization Service detention of five men, who are represented by the Federal Public Defender’s office and a private attorney. The ACLU submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

The ACLU and other attorneys successfully argued that the INS policy was a violation of due process rights, giving the INS unfettered discretion to detain the immigrants — potentially for the rest of their lives.

“This decision is a vindication that the Constitution applies to everyone, including deportable aliens,” said Jayashri Srikantiah, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project. “The decision is especially important because it is a unanimous ruling from all of the federal District Court judges in Seattle. It should carry special weight throughout the country.”

There are 120 people in Washington and more than 3,000 nationally who are in similar situations: non-citizens — often legal permanent residents — most of whom came into custody of the INS after completing sentences for criminal convictions. These immigrants, unlike other detainees who are found deportable, cannot be returned to their countries of origin. Nevertheless, the INS continues to detain them under amendments to the Immigration and Naturalization Act adopted in 1996.

The government argued that an administrative hearing process adequately protects the detainees’ rights. However, the ACLU and the other attorneys contended that the hearings are often shams that fall far short of real due process.

Agreeing with the ACLU, the court ruling found, “Our review of the record confirms that the INS does not meaningfully and impartially review the petitioners’ custody status.”

The government is expected to appeal the ruling.

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