Federal judge tosses ICE detainee’s lawsuit against county prison

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

A West Virginia man detained by immigration officials at York County Prison since mid-June will likely remain locked up until he is deported to his native Sierra Leone after a federal judge dismissed his lawsuit against the prison.

Two months after being jailed, Mamadu Balde, 44, sued prison Warden Clair Doll and the top officials of the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, seeking his release from York County Prison until officials could guarantee his deportation.

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, U.S. District Court Judge Yvette Kane dismissed Balde’s lawsuit after government attorneys said they had, in fact,  secured travel documents from Sierra Leone officials for Balde’s deportation. 

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


Witold Walczak, Balde’s lawyer and legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, had argued his client had no chance of being deported to his home country because Sierra Leone officials had repeatedly refused to issue travel documents allowing Balde to enter the country.

Mamadu Balde

Balde was detained for nine months in 2012 before being released because Sierra Leone officials could not confirm Balde’s citizenship, Walczak said after filing the suit.

Sierra Leone officials refused to allow Balde into the country as recently as June 23, making it seem as though the Department of Homeland Security could not deport Balde “in the reasonably foreseeable future,” the lawsuit alleged.

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Two weeks before Kane’s ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson recommended the dismissal of Balde’s habeas corpus petition, citing legal precedent and the issuance of an “emergency travel certificate” for Balde. 

Immigration officials are entitled to hold detainees for up to six months if they can show the detainee’s deportation can be secured in the “reasonably foreseeable future,” according to Carlson’s recommendation.

Immigration officials “have shown that Sierra Leone has issued travel documents to Balde, and his removal from the United States now seems imminent,” Carlson wrote. “Therefore, we find that there is a significant likelihood that Balde will be removed in the reasonably foreseeable future.”

With travel documents secured and  Balde’s deportation “imminent,” the petition for his release and protection from further detainment will soon become moot, Carlson wrote.

In his recommendation, Carlson urged immigration officials to be aware of Balde’s constitutional rights and encouraged a swift resolution.

“Immigration officials should continue to be alert to their legal responsibility to ensure (Balde’s) prompt removal from the United States and strive to expedite his return to his homeland,” Carlson wrote.