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Suit: Immigration repeat offenders held too long in detention

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that immigrants are being unfairly held in detention facilities against national policy. The suit alleges that federal officials are allowing the immigrants to languish in detention for months, even though regulations dictate that they should receive an initial decision about the legitimacy of their case within a 10-day period. That initial decision determines whether the immigrants have a reasonable fear of returning to their home country. A favorable ruling allows the immigrant to progress to the next stage in the application process for asylum protection in Texas and other states.

The lawsuit in this case applies to a relatively small group of immigrants who had come back to the U.S. after having been initially deported. Those people now face repeat deportation. They are not given another chance to plead their cases, as the ruling from their first hearing takes priority.

One man who is seeking immigration protection had been deported at the border as he tried to enter the country in 2005. That El Salvador native was able to illegally reenter the country two years later, and he has been living in California ever since. That man has been held at a federal detention facility for four months as he awaits a hearing with an asylum officer. The man said he was beaten repeatedly by police in his home country, and he fears retaliation from a criminal group.

The suit comes in the midst of a renewed effort to expel repeat immigration offenders. About one in three deportees are repeat offenders, according to some estimates. Still, these illegal immigrants may have a legitimate reason for fleeing their own country, and they deserve protection within U.S. borders. Immigrants should not be illegally held for months simply because officials are not sure how to proceed with their cases. Instead, every immigrant should receive an appropriately expedited asylum hearing, allowing them to move on with their lives instead of languishing in a detention facility.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "ACLU sues over delays for immigrants seeking U.S. protection" Kate Linthicum, Apr. 17, 2014

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