Ruling Bars Indefinite Immigrant Detention

January 29, 2000 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES, CA — Another federal judge has ruled that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) cannot indefinitely hold immigrants who have been ordered deported for crimes but whose native countries refuse to accept them, the Associated Press reported today.

The ruling affects 110 legal immigrants being held at detention centers in central California who already have served prison time for their crimes.

According to AP, U.S. District Judge Terry J. Hatter, who issued the ruling, said the policy violates the immigrants’ due process rights. The possibility that they pose a flight risk or danger is not sufficient reason to detain them for what amounts to the rest of their lives, he said.

In Seattle, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to review a similar ruling by a federal judge. That case is scheduled for argument in February but probably will not be decided for several months.

Nationwide, the INS holds about 3,800 people in indefinite custody for crimes ranging from petty theft to murder. The practice has been upheld by federal judges in San Diego and Nevada, and by federal appeals courts in New Orleans and Philadelphia.

The ACLU, which has opposed the INS’s policy of indefinite detention, applauded the ruling.

“This is a resounding rejection of the Immigration and Naturalization Service argument that they can hold someone forever,” said Lucas Guttentag, Director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The court recognized that the purpose of immigration detention is to effectuate deportation, not to sentence someone to life in prison.”

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