Faced with a lawsuit alleging the unconstitutional detainment of a Sierra Leonean national at York County Prison, immigration officials are saying they are within their rights to continue holding him because he lied to avoid being deported.
During a June 23 interview, Mamadu Balde told officials from Sierra Leone that he was from the Ivory Coast, leading the officials to again refuse to issue travel documents for Balde, U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler wrote Aug. 29 in his response to Balde’s suit.
In a sworn statement to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials after that interview, Balde confirmed he was a citizen of Sierra Leone and not the Ivory Coast, Brandler wrote.
Balde, 44, sued York County Prison Warden Clair Doll and three top federal immigration officials on Aug. 15, seeking his release until immigration officials can guarantee his deportation to Sierra Leone.
Balde has been detained at the ICE detention facility at York County Prison since mid-June after being picked up during a routine check-in with ICE agents in Charleston, West Virginia, where Balde lives.
Uncooperative: Balde has been living in the U.S. since 1999 after fleeing a civil war in his native country. ICE officials tried deporting Balde in 2012, but Sierra Leone would not issue travel documents because they could not confirm his citizenship.
Despite claiming he is cooperating with ICE officials, “Balde’s actions in providing false information to Sierra Leone officials in an attempt to thwart the issuance of a travel document” show he is not fulfilling his legal requirements to secure his deportation, Brandler wrote.
“The only bar to Balde’s removal is his own behavior,” Brandler wrote.
Unneeded extension: The targets of Balde’s suit were given two weeks to respond, but Brandler initially asked for a deadline extension because ICE agents could not locate Balde’s immigration file. However, Balde’s file was located in time for Brandler to file his response to meet the original Aug. 29 deadline.
In his request for more time, Brandler also wrote that Balde’s lawsuit was one of 15 habeas corpus petitions filed in a two-week period.
Balde’s lawyers — Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, and Ashley Lively, of JBM Legal LLC — slammed Brandler’s deadline-extension request, saying it suggested “the U.S. Attorney’s Office has much work, perhaps even too much work.”
“The U.S. government cannot be heard to complain that it does not have the time or resources to defend against charges of unconstitutional detention” when the increased workload is a consequence of government policy decisions, Walczak and Lively wrote.
“If the government will be detaining more people, it is obligated to allocate sufficient resources to assure constitutional due process,” Balde’s lawyers wrote. “The government’s policy decision is a political choice. Respecting Mr. Balde’s due process rights is a constitutional imperative.”
Unexpected delay? Though Brandler's request for more time was unnecessary in the end, Balde's lawsuit against ICE and the York County Prison may hit an unforeseen snag in the near future.
On Friday, Sept. 8, President Donald Trump nominated Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed to take over Brandler's post as the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Freed, who served as a deputy prosecutor in the York County District Attorney's Office from 1997-98, was defeated by Kathleen Kane in the 2012 race for Pennsylvania attorney general.
If confirmed as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Freed would be responsible for representing Doll, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, acting ICE Director Thomas Homan and ICE Philadelphia Field Office Director Jennifer Ritchey in Balde's lawsuit.
Freed has the support of Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators, Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, but it is unclear when Freed's nomination will come up for confirmation by the Senate.