Held with no chance of deportation, detainee sues York County Prison

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

A Sierra Leonean national detained in York County Prison since June is suing the prison’s warden and directors of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for his release.

Mamadu Balde, 44, has been in the United States for more than 18 years after fleeing Sierra Leone in 1999 to escape civil war, his lawyer, Witold Walczak, said Tuesday, Aug. 15.

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township, Thursday, June 29, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo
Mamadu Balde

For the past two months, he’s been held at the ICE detention facility at the county prison without any chance of being deported to his native country, Walczak said.

Balde has faced deportation before, having been locked up for nine months in 2012.

ICE’s attempts to deport Balde that year were halted when officials in Sierra Leone refused to issue travel documents because they could not confirm Balde’s citizenship, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Monday, Aug. 14.

Sierra Leone officials refused to allow Balde into the country as recently as June 23, making it clear that the Department of Homeland Security cannot deport Balde “in the reasonably foreseeable future,” the lawsuit alleges.

Balde’s lawyers — Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, and Ashley Lively of JBM Legal LLC — are asking the court to release Balde and prevent him from being re-detained unless his deportation can be ensured.

“We don’t trust these people,” Walczak said of immigration agents. “There’s no reason to detain him now, so we want that court order saying ‘Don’t be doing this again. Let him go and leave him alone until and unless Sierra Leone agrees to take him.'”

Balde filed the lawsuit against Clair Doll, York County Prison warden; Elaine Duke, acting DHS secretary; Thomas Homan, acting ICE director; and Jennifer Ritchey, director of ICE’s Philadelphia field office. 

York County public information officer Mark Walters said the decision to release Balde lies squarely with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

"They've got their own court. They have their own officers. York County Prison does not make the call on whether or not a detainee" is deported or released, Walters said.

‘Unconstitutional’ detainment: Without legal immigration status in the United States, and without any documents to prove his citizenship in Sierra Leone, Balde is a “stateless individual” and should be released from the detention facility until he can be successfully deported, Walczak said.

“He’s in the country without authorization, but there’s no other country in the world who will take him,” Walczak said. “Under those circumstances, the government can’t just continue to detain him because he’s got no place to go.”

In the nearly five years since his release in October 2012, Balde got married, bought a house and paid all his taxes while financially supporting his teenage niece and nephew, Walczak said. 

Walczak said his client has complied with all orders and directives given to him by ICE agents during that time.

Sitting in York County Prison, Balde is “distraught” because he can’t do anything to help support his family, Walczak said.

“He’s done everything that’s been asked of him, and out of the blue, this new administration decides they’re going to lock him up again,” Walczak said.

Balde was detained during a June ICE check-in at the agency’s field office in Charleston, West Virginia, where Balde lives, according to the lawsuit.

“For no reason, they pick him up again and detain him when it’s crystal clear he can’t be deported,” Walczak continued. “This is just being mean. It’s not promoting public safety, and it’s certainly not honoring the Constitution.”

Prison issues: Balde’s lawsuit comes three months after the Human Rights Watch released a scathing report in response to an October 2013 suicide in the ICE detention facility at the York County Prison.

More:Report criticizes York prison for 2013 suicide: 'Woefully inadequate'

In the report, medical experts said Antiguan immigrant Tiombe Kimana Carlos received “woefully inadequate” mental health treatment during the 2½ years she was held at the prison before hanging herself.

An ICE review found that Carlos, 34 at the time of her death, was placed on suicide watch five times and attempted suicide about two months before killing herself.

The agency’s Office of Detention Oversight noted that the York County Prison violated federal standards by having “no overall treatment plan with measurable goals and objectives.”

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Carlos was 4 when her family moved to New York City as legal permanent residents of the United States. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 14. 

Carlos was 30 when her green card was revoked for petty crimes, probation violations and hitting a police officer who arrested her after a bar brawl.