ACLU: ICE backlog doesn't outweigh detainee's rights

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lawyers are asking for more time to justify the detainment of a Sierra Leone national at York County Prison, two weeks after the man’s lawyers petitioned a federal court for his release.

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

Mamadu Balde’s lawyers filed a lawsuit Aug. 15 against the prison’s warden and three top federal immigration officials claiming Balde has been unconstitutionally detained at the county prison since June by federal authorities.

Balde, 44, is in York County Prison awaiting deportation, but as recently as June 23, officials from Sierra Leone refused to issue travel documents for him because they could not confirm Balde’s citizenship.

Balde has been living in the United States since 1999 after fleeing a civil war in his native country. He is seeking his release from York County Prison and a guarantee he will not be detained again until his deportation to Sierra Leone can be guaranteed.

Mamadu Balde

ICE officials were given until Aug. 29 to respond to Balde’s lawsuit, but U.S. Attorney Bruce Brandler has filed a motion requesting that deadline be pushed to Tuesday, Sept. 5.

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

In his motion, Brandler cites a backlog of other lawsuits seeking detainees’ releases and problems locating Balde’s immigration records.

Balde’s lawsuit is one of 15 habeas corpus petitions filed in the same two-week period, while ICE officials have yet to find Balde’s immigration file, “given the location of the file,” Brandler wrote in the motion.

‘Too much work’? Balde’s lawyers — Ashley Lively of JBM Legal LLC and Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania — hit back in their response to Brandler’s motion, saying none of his reasons for delaying the lawsuit are “good cause” to keep Balde locked up.

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Brandler’s motion to delay his response suggests “the U.S. Attorney’s Office has much work, perhaps even too much work,” Balde’s lawyers wrote.

“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, the lawyers continued.

“If the government will be detaining more people, it is obligated to allocate sufficient resources to assure constitutional due process,” Lively and Walczak wrote. “The government’s policy decision is a political choice. Respecting Mr. Balde’s due process rights is a constitutional imperative.”

The failure by ICE officials to find Balde’s immigration records shows the frailty of their reasons for detaining Balde at the ICE detention facility at York County Prison, Balde’s lawyers wrote.

“As with any person in this country confined against his or her will, the legal basis for Mr. Balde’s detention should be immediately available,” Lively and Walczak argue in their opposition to Brandler’s motion.