NOWCRJ Files Landmark Lawsuit for Release of Jailed Asylum Applicant

NOWCRJ Files Landmark Lawsuit for Release of Jailed Asylum Applicant

Press Conference: Tuesday, October 11th, 1 pm at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (1250 Poydras Street, New Orleans, LA)

NEW ORLEANS—On Tuesday, October 11, 2016, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ) filed a groundbreaking habeas corpus lawsuit (PDF) against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to free Daniel Acosta Sarmiento, a petitioner who is seeking to remain in the United States on humanitarian grounds, as he is facing immediate threats to his life if he is deported to Honduras. Daniel Acosta is a member of the NOWCRJ’s Congress of Day Laborers.

Daniel’s wife, Tania Acosta-Paz, said: “Once upon a time, we were just a normal family. Now I drive six hours every Sunday because that’s the only way my children can see their father.”

U.S. laws and treaties prohibit the deportation of those who face persecution that threatens their lives or freedom in their countries of origin. U.S. laws also limit unreasonable and unnecessary detention. Nevertheless, Daniel—the husband of a U.S. citizen, father of two U.S. citizen children, a devoted churchgoer, and a former youth soccer coach—has been held without bond in a private detention center for nearly five months.

Daniel has applied for withholding of removal (a form of relief analogous to asylum) because of credible ongoing threats of murder directed at his entire family in Honduras.

An immigration judge automatically denied Daniel bond due to a previous deportation in 2012. Daniel is now being forced to fight his immigration case from detention, even though he is in no way a flight risk or threat to his community in Kenner, and an asylum officer has already found his fear of persecution to be reasonable.

The lawsuit would break new ground in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas—states covered by the federal Fifth Circuit court, where the case could end up if appealed. The lawsuit seeks to make new precedent on the right to a bond hearing for a previously deported immigrant seeking humanitarian relief. While the federal appellate court in the Second Circuit unanimously ruled that immigrants in Daniel’s situation should be entitled to bond hearings, that court only has jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.

If Daniel were detained in the Ninth or Tenth Circuits (which have jurisdiction over the West Coast and Rocky Mountain states, respectively), he would also likely receive a bond hearing to argue for his release. But the NOWCRJ habeas lawsuit is the first of its kind in the Fifth Circuit.

Anne Recinos, an Equal Justice Works Emerson Legal Fellow at NOWCRJ, said: “This lawsuit forces ICE to answer in federal court for its unlawful detention of Daniel, and is a first step toward changing ICE’s practice of detaining immigrants while they are seeking humanitarian relief. It’s shameful that ICE continues to detain these immigrants when the detention has already been declared unlawful in other courts.”

Audrey Stewart, Managing Director for NOWCRJ, emphasized: “Immigrant asylum seekers should not be detained at all—and certainly not indefinitely. We expect the Fifth Circuit to agree with other circuits and grant Daniel a bond hearing and release him to be with his family while his asylum case proceeds.”

The lawsuit would break new ground in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas—states covered by the federal Fifth Circuit court, where the case could end up if appealed. The lawsuit seeks to make new precedent on the right to a bond hearing for a previously deported immigrant seeking humanitarian relief. While the federal appellate court in the Second Circuit unanimously ruled that immigrants in Daniel’s situation should be entitled to bond hearings, that court only has jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York, and Vermont.

This lawsuit comes at a critical moment of increased scrutiny of mass incarceration, both nationally and at the state level. The country’s 34,000 immigrant detainees, however, are not generally included in the conversation. For instance, the Department of Justice’s recent announcement that federal prisoners will no longer be held in private facilities does not extend to immigrant detainees.

Bonds are generally much higher and much harder to access in the immigration context. A defendant in Daniel’s situation facing criminal charges rather than immigration charges would almost certainly be granted bond. Furthermore, unlike criminal defendants, immigrant detainees are not entitled to state-appointed lawyers. These contradictions exist because immigration detention is legally civil detention, meaning that it is not intended to punish detainees. But in reality, immigration detention causes extreme hardship, and deportation proceedings are high-stakes processes, as in Daniel’s case where his life is at risk. Furthermore, conditions in detention centers are often deplorable due to a lack of monitoring and independent oversight.

Daniel’s wife, Tania Acosta-Paz, works two jobs, Monday through Saturday, in order to pay for legal fees, her family’s house, and her children’s education. She works from 4 am to 7 am, drops her kids off at school, and then works again from 9 am to 7 pm. On Sundays she makes the drive to Pine Prairie, Louisiana, where the Detention Center is located.

Tania said, “This is the hardest situation I’ve ever faced but I’m going to keep fighting to free Daniel. My husband has never harmed anyone. There’s no reason that my nine-year-old and three-year-old should be without their father and on the brink of losing their house, like they are right now.”

Press Conference: Tuesday, October 11th, 1 pm at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (1250 Poydras Street New Orleans, LA)

Contacts:
Fernando Lopez, flopez@nowcrj.org, (504) 258-1000, Lead Organizer, NOWCRJ’s Congress of Day Laborers
Mary Yanik, NOWCRJ Staff Attorney / Liman Legal Fellow, (504) 264-4219, myanik@nowcrj.org

Download: Habeas Petition for Daniel Acosta Sarmiento