According to a list recently released by the federal government, more than 350 immigrant detainees in Los Angeles have been held in detention for more than six months while fighting deportation.
The list of names was turned over to the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California last month as part of a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The ACLU is battling for the right of detainees held for six months or more to have hearings on whether they can be released from custody while their cases are pending.
The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment on the lawsuit. The department opposed releasing the names but was ordered to do so by a federal judge. Its lawyers are continuing to oppose the bond hearings.
Ahilan Arulanantham, who directs the immigrants’ rights and national security program for the ACLU of Southern California, said he was shocked that so many immigrants were being held in detention for longer than six months.
There are about more than a thousand immigrant detainees in the area, and at least 30% were never represented by an attorney.
The team of attorneys is sending letters to its clients. Many of the class members are seeking asylum and some have been held for years.
One of the class members, Damdin Borjgin, a Mongolian man seeking asylum in the United States, has been in custody at Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster since November 2007. Borjgin said he has never had a hearing to see if he would be eligible for release.
“I didn’t think I would be locked up in the jail for this much time,” Borjgin said through an interpreter in a recent interview. “I am living here as a prisoner. My rights are limited.”
Afraid for his safety, he came to the United States, where he was detained at Los Angeles International Airport and taken to the detention center.
Borjgin, who did not have an attorney, lost his case in Immigration Court and at the Board of Immigration Appeals. The case now is pending in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Currently, most immigrant detainees are not entitled to bond hearings: foreigners that are arrested upon arrival in the United States; foreigners who have committed certain crimes; or foreigners who have lost their cases and have final orders of deportation. However, detainees who cannot be deported within six months of the conclusion of the case may be entitled to be released.
Arulanantham said that Borjgin might have never been placed behind bars in the first place. Immigration officials now release arriving asylum seekers from detention if they have a credible fear of persecution, prove their identity and pose neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
“ICE’s detention capacity is not unlimited,” said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “We want to ensure we’re using our detention resources to keep criminals and other dangerous aliens in custody while we seek their removal from the country.”
The change was part of an overhaul of the detention system announced last year. John Morton, the chief of the immigration agency, said he would make immigration detention less reliant on prisons and jails and more specifically designed for civil detainees.
Since the announcement, the agency has reduced the number of detention facilities nationwide and canceled contracts at 10 sites because of reported problems. Visitation, recreation and legal access also have been expanded at some facilities.
If you are someone you know is being detained in Lancaster’s Mira Loma facility, Otay Mesa or another detention facility, contact The Nunez Firm to schedule a free consultation. Managing attorney Jay Nunez will discuss your situation with you and help you better understand your options.