Immigrant Rights Clinic secure release of detained client following federal habeas victory

NYU Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic won release for a longtime Brooklyn resident who had been detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) without a bond hearing for more than seven months.

Alina Das '05Sean Lai McMahon ’14, and Etan Newman ’15, under the supervision of Assistant Professor of Clinical Law Alina Das ’05, filed a habeas petition in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in September 2013. Sarah Vendzules ’08, an attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, contacted the Immigrant Rights Clinic about filing a habeas corpus petition to challenge the legality of her client’s mandatory detention. This client, whose name is not being disclosed in the interest of safeguarding his privacy, is a longtime US resident from Trinidad who is facing deportation due to nonviolent drug convictions he received several years ago. Though he was sentenced to no jail time for his convictions and had probation terminated early for good behavior, immigration authorities detained him nearly four years later and held him for months without providing a bond hearing.

In the habeas petition, McMahon and Newman argued that their client’s detention without an opportunity for bond was arbitrary, illegal, and unconstitutional. Though the statute provides for mandatory detention for those detained by immigration authorities “when…released” from criminal custody for certain offenses, the client had never been incarcerated for his convictions and had been working in the community and taking care of his young US citizen daughter for years before being detained. The petition argued that under these circumstances, refusing him an opportunity to make his case for release to an immigration judge violated the statute and denied him due process.

On December 10, 2013, after briefing and oral argument by McMahon and Newman, Judge Paul Engelmayer granted the habeas petition. Holding that the clinic’s client was “never ‘released’ from physical custody” after a conviction enumerated in the statute, Judge Engelmayer concluded that the individual was not covered in the mandatory detention statute and ordered the government to provide him with a bond hearing. An immigration judge subsequently decided that he was not a flight risk or danger to the community. The client was released on bond in February.

“The government’s detention without bond of many New Yorkers who have lived peacefully in the community for years is contrary to the statute and common sense,” said McMahon and Newman in a joint statement. “We’re so happy that our client, plainly an asset to his community, is now able to be home with his daughter and family as he pursues relief from deportation.”

Das puts the case in the context of immigration detention policy around the nation: "Across the country, thousands of immigrants like our client are held for months in mandatory detention after being seized by the DHS without ever receiving a bond hearing. Federal courts play an important role in protecting against the unlawful application of mandatory detention laws, and our hope is that DHS itself will come to recognize that it is applying these laws too expansively.”

Posted on March 25, 2014