NEW YORK – In a ruling Wednesday evening, a federal judge affirmed the right of a long-time U.S. permanent resident facing deportation proceedings to a bond hearing to determine if he can be released while his immigration case is resolved. Augustin Sajous brought a lawsuit when the government abruptly canceled his bond hearing on March 19. Mr. Sajous, who has been imprisoned for eight months, is represented by Brooklyn Defender Services, which joined the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the unconstitutional prolonged detention of immigrants.
“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,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Bond hearings are a vital safeguard against unjustified and prolonged imprisonment.”
In March of 2018, the government abruptly stopped providing bond hearings to certain immigrants in detention, leaving resource-intensive federal court litigation as the only path for those immigrants to obtain a chance to be released. The government stopped their years-long practice of providing bond hearings after the Supreme Court ruled in February that immigration law does not guarantee a bond hearing. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Jennings v. Rodriguez abstained from determining whether the Constitution guarantees a bond hearing if detention becomes prolonged.
Yesterday’s decision affirmed that Mr. Sajous is entitled to a bond hearing to determine whether continued detention is necessary while his immigration case proceeds. Judge Alison Nathan wrote that “it would violate the Petitioner's right to due process to continue to detain him without prompt access to an individualized bond hearing.” The court reaffirmed that when detention becomes prolonged and unreasonable, immigrants do have the right to a bond hearing. The court, however, did not find that six months of detention was a definitive standard after which bond hearings should be required.
“We’re glad that Mr. Sajous has won the right to a bond hearing and will have the opportunity to demonstrate that his detention is both cruel and unnecessary,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services. “Many of our clients suffer indefinite separation from their families, jobs, and their communities in the horrific conditions of immigration detention. This decision is a good step towards restoring due process and a path to justice.”
The majority of the immigrants impacted by the government’s abrupt change in practice are people who have lived in the U.S. for long periods of time, including green card holders who are facing deportation because of minor criminal convictions. Mr. Sajous, is a 60-year-old Haitian man who has lived in the U.S. for 46 years, since he became a permanent resident as a child in the 1970s. He studied mechanics, bought a house, and helped raise a family, but in recent years he has struggled with mental health issues, which led to periods of homelessness. He was detained by ICE outside a New York City courthouse in September 2017 and has been held for eight months, facing deportation because of two convictions for bending a MetroCard in order to ride the subway for free.
“It feels almost impossible to fight your immigration case from detention,” said Mr. Sajous. “If you need a book or certain documents for your case, you can’t get them because nothing is within reach. 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.”
The court ordered a bond hearing for Mr. Sajous within the next fourteen days.
“Today’s ruling is an important step towards overturning the federal government’s unconstitutional attempt to use detention to discourage immigrants from fighting their deportation,” said Jordan Wells, staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “We are pleased that the Court ordered a bond hearing for Mr. Sajous, but without a rule requiring a hearing within six months many immigrants may remain detained with no other options than costly, inaccessible federal litigation.”
In addition to Wells, counsel on the case include NYCLU staff attorneys Robert Hodgson, Paige Austin, and Aadhithi Padmanabhan, associate legal director Christopher Dunn and paralegal Ingrid Sydenstricker, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project staff attorney Michael Tan and deputy director Judy Rabinovitz, and BDS attorneys Andrea Saenz, Brooke Menschel, Zoey Jones and Bridget Kessler.