MANHATTAN (CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union brought national firepower Thursday to the case of a man with schizophrenia who has been denied a bond hearing while he faces deportation to Haiti for subway-turnstile mischief.
Kept in a cell at the Hudson County Correctional Facility since September 2017, 60-year-old Augustin Sajous “faces the prospect of indefinite detention in a jail while he contests the government’s misguided efforts to deport him,” according to the ACLU’s filing.
The ACLU took up the case, recasting it as a class action, just over a month after it was originally filed by a public defender with Brooklyn Defender Services.
When the original case was filed on March 19, Sajous had been scheduled to get his bond hearing that same day after six months in detention.
The ACLU notes that this bond hearing for Sajous had been scheduled initially in light of the 2015 decision by the Second Circuit in the case Lora v. Shanahan.
In addition to holding that section 1226(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act required bond hearings after six months, Lora “expressly endorsed the position that the due-process clause also requires such hearings,” according to the ACLU’s filing.
Because of a Feb. 27, 2018, shake-up by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, an immigration judge presiding over the Sajous case opted on March 19 to cancel his hearing.
The ACLU says the Second Circuit’s due-process analysis should be considered in full effect even though the Supreme Court vacated Lora on March 5, a week after ruling in Jennings v. Rodriguez that Section 1226(c) does not entitle immigrants to bond hearings.
Meanwhile “scores of other immigrants” who pose no public-safety or flight risk to languish in jail because of the government’s new bond practices, Thursday’s class action alleges.
“Preventive civil detention is rare in the United States legal system and in free societies,” the 16-page petition states. “The mandatory detention of an entire class of people without determining whether each individual’s imprisonment serves a strong government interest is even more anomalous. When such detention becomes prolonged, it presents a constitutional crisis.” (Emphasis in original.)
Representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment on the case.
In a press release on the case, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called out the predicament as the latest fallout from the “anti-immigrant agenda” of President Donald Trump.
“Immigrants are entitled to due process, and bond hearings are a vital safeguard against the unjustified and prolonged imprisonment that the Trump regime seeks to impose on all immigrants,” Lieberman added.
Brooklyn Defender Services joins the ACLU and the NYCLU as co-counsel.
The attorneys deny that lead plaintiff Sajous could be found to have committed a crime involving moral turpitude based on two 2015 convictions for bending New York City MetroCards such that they could be swiped through a subway turnstile, even with a zero balance.
Sajous served 30 days in jail for each misdemeanor conviction and was taken into custody by Homeland Security agents this past September. The arrest occurred outside a Brooklyn court where Sajous had faced a hearing on other charges, “all of which have since been adjourned in contemplation of dismissal,” the new petition states.
A legal permanent resident of the United States, Sajous immigrated when he was 14 and has not left the country in 46 years.
The ACLU notes that he worked steadily for years but has recently experienced periods of homelessness. His symptoms of schizophrenia have recurred in immigration detention, which is described in the petition as “identical to those of county jail inmates serving criminal sentences.”
When Sajous is brought to immigration court for hearings, the petition notes, he is made to wear a jail jumpsuit and his hands are kept in shackles.