MANHATTAN (CN) – Ordering a bond hearing for a Haitian man facing indefinite lockup, a U.S. judge set the stage Thursday for other immigrants to receive classwide relief.
“The public interest is best served by ensuring the constitutional rights of persons within the United States are upheld,” U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan wrote.
Nathan’s 31-page opinion ruling spells imminent relief for 60-year-old Augustin Sajous, who has been detained inside the Hudson County Correctional Facility since September 2017 based on two convictions for evading subway fares.
“It feels almost impossible to fight your immigration case from detention,” Sajous said in a statement through his attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“If you need a book or certain documents for your case, you can’t get them because nothing is within reach,” he continued. “If you don’t have any money, it’s impossible to call people to have them help you get what you need. I just want the chance to explain to the judge that I’m not a flight risk. When you’re free, it’s a lot easier to fight your case. A bond hearing is my chance.”
If the government does not provide Sajous with that bond hearing in the next 14 days, Nathan said he must be immediately released.
“At the bond hearing, the petitioner must be released on bail unless the government establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the immigrant poses a risk of flight or a risk of danger to the community,” Nathan wrote.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
Sajous’ struggle falls amid a string of cases mandating bond hearings for detained immigrants – and a recent Supreme Court decision weakening those protections.
In 2015, the New York-based Second Circuit took action against what it called the “significant constitutional concern” of “indefinite incarceration” in the case of Dominican immigrant Alexander Lora.
But the Supreme Court vacated Lora this past March — one week after ruling in Jennings v. Rodriguez that Section 1226(c) does not entitle immigrants to bond hearings.
Nathan noted, however, that the Jannings decision left open whether prolonged mandatory detention of an immigrant violates the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.
Finding that it does, Nathan blamed Sajous’ lengthy detention on government bureaucracy.
“When an alien’s detention becomes prolonged because his case has ‘slipped through the cracks,’ such detention is unreasonable whether the failure was caused by ICE officials, an immigration judge, an administrative clerk, or another agency such as USCIS,” she wrote, using an abbreviation for U.S. Customs and Immigration Services.
Lengthy detention has been burdensome on Sajous, whom Nathan noted could lose job opportunities and housing here if he is allowed to stay.
“He has suffered (and alleges that he will continue to suffer) adverse effects on his health – namely, the exacerbation of a back injury – and is being prevented from creating a long-term plan to deal with his substantial mental health issues,” the ruling states.
The ACLU noted in a previous filing that Sajous saw a recurrence of schizophrenia symptoms while in immigration detention — confinement that the ACLU notes is “identical to those of county jail inmates serving criminal sentences.”
Issuing a preliminary injunction for Sajous’ favor, Nathan set a deadline to advance the class action portion of the case within seven days.
For the New York Civil Liberties Union’s executive director Donna Lieberman, the ruling showed that immigrants still have rights under the Trump administration.
“Despite the Trump regime’s efforts to attack immigrants and undermine their basic rights, courts have again affirmed that immigrants are entitled to due process,” Lieberman said. “Bond hearings are a vital safeguard against unjustified and prolonged imprisonment.”