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‘Lawlessness’ in Immigration Jails for 250,000 Detainees Finally Allowed to Remain in America

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WANG LUNYI / GETTY/THE DAILY BEAST

Originally published by The Daily Beast

“Nine years and four months,” Sylvester Owino says. That’s how long he was jailed in immigration detention, waiting for his deportation case to be resolved. He did not want to go back to Kenya, where he says he would not only be jailed but also tortured because of his political dissent.

Although his time behind bars is much longer than most immigration detainees, his plight is common. Federal records for deportation cases filed from 2000 to October 2017 show that more than a quarter-million immigrants who ultimately won the right to remain in America were jailed for at least part of the time they spent waiting for a final decision.

Many, like Owino, were held under laws requiring mandatory detention for non-citizens convicted of a wide variety of crimes—without the right to a bond hearing. Right now, the Supreme Court is deciding whether practices that would amount to “lawlessness” in criminal courts—Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s word for it—can continue in immigration courts.

The Trump administration argued strongly against a solution adopted by appeals courts in California and New York, which ruled that immigrant detainees should get a bond hearing every six months at which the government must demonstrate it would be risky to release them. Instead, its lawyer asserted that those detainees are entitled to nothing, that for “aliens arriving at our shores… whatever Congress chooses to give is due process.”

President Donald Trump, who ran on the promise of mass deportations, did not invent the present system. Rather, it was cemented into law when President Bill Clinton signed an immigration reform act the month before his 1996 re-election. The Obama administration defended it, too.

The numbers tell Owino’s story on a larger scale, and how jailing immigrants encourages them to choose to depart—giving up on the chance that a judge may allow them to stay. According to data gathered by TRAC, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, records for deportation cases show:

  • Federal authorities have jailed 258,070 immigrants who ultimately prevailed against deportation charges filed since 2000—often after long waits behind bars. Of these immigrants, 78,947 were still in jail when their cases concluded with good news.
  • The prospect of an extended stay in jail leads many immigrants to give up and ask to leave. In the year that ended Sept. 30, 7,293 of 54,290 detainees took voluntary departure, or 13 percent, compared to 242 of the 44,095 released from detention, or .005 percent. Jailed immigrants, that is, were 2,600 times more likely to give up on their cases and return to their homelands.
  • About 1 in 4 of the detainees who were jailed in cases filed since 2000 but later permitted to stay in the United States—and for whom the information is available—had been living in the country 20 years or longer before being arrested.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/lawlessness-in-immigration-jails-for-250000-detainees-finally-allowed-to-remain-in-america?ref=home

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