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General News    H2'ed 6/17/11

U.S. Government Violating Non-Citizen Constitutional Rights

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Message Valerie Burch

Add to this the fact that friends and family of the detained person frantically phone government offices where no one answers in English, let alone Kiribati, and immeasurable, unnecessary suffering results.

 

At least 11 Pennsylvania county prisons have contracts with DHS to hold immigration detainees: Allegheny County Jail, Berks County Family Shelter, Berks County Prison, Berks County Secure Juvenile Facility, Cambria County Prison, Clinton County Correctional Facility, Columbia County Prison, Erie County Prison, Lackawanna County Prison, Pike County Prison, and York County Prison.

 

Most DHS detainees held in Pennsylvania have been arrested in greater New York City, New Jersey and Philadelphia after residing in the U.S. for years. They often present complicated claims for relief from removal based on U.S. family ties, length of time here and fear of return to their home countries. These people, who present strong arguments to remain, find themselves in detention the longest. On January 25, 2009, 551 of 1,135 immigrants detained in PA had been detained longer than the 45 days. One of them had been detained for 5 years.

 

The rate at which people detained by DHS move through the commonwealth is astounding. Most must travel through York County Prison which houses an immigration court. Over the course of a year 10,000 people are shuttled through York and off to everywhere in the world. But, this massive forced migration is invisible, unless you're looking. Pennsylvania's detained people are transported in unmarked buses (see photo on page 1). They are held in regular county jails that often bear no insignia of a federal government presence.

 

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."   The promise of freedom made by our Constitution applies to every person in the United States, not just to citizens.

 

The ACLU-PA works every day to keep this promise. Since 2008, the ACLU-PA, along with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, has won the release of eight people detained by DHS longer than one year in Pennsylvania's prisons. In one of these cases, filed as a class action with the help of Pepper Hamilton LLP, the Middle District of Pennsylvania acknowledged, "the growing consensus within this district and, indeed it appears throughout the federal courts, that prolonged detention of aliens . . . raises serious constitutional concerns." The case, Alli v Decker, is on its way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where we hope for a decision that will set free Pennsylvania's DHS detainees who have been held for more than a year absent any judicial review of the decision to detain.

 

According to the government's interpretation of the law, people jailed for years by DHS are not even entitled to a hearing before a judge who has the power to set them free. DHS's "administrative detention" powers, it argues, are absolute. We believe that the Fifth Amendment applies to all people, and as such, we trudge onward through the courts.

 

 

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Valerie Burch is a staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
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U.S. Government Violating Non-Citizen Constitutional Rights

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