Cold as ICE: Immigration Detainee Held In County Jail Sues For His Freedom
Apr. 18, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Rushinga Muzaliwa is not waiting trial. He has no pending criminal or immigration charges, and no one has labeled him a flight risk. He has served his sentence for domestic violence. So why the hell is he being held in a county jail for 90 days? Just because, apparently. The Star Tribune reports on a lawsuit filed by Muzaliwa against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE:
A 42-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo is being wrongfully detained in a Sherburne County jail and should be released, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week.
Rushinga Muzaliwa, who has a criminal record, is stuck in jail despite having served time for his crimes and despite a judge’s ruling in January that he should not be deported to his home country for fear he could be tortured. This case could potentially set precedents for others if you have an immigration case, and so it is being followed carefully by many legal bodies.
The lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Minnesota accuses U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of using a “blanket” policy meant for deportation proceedings to detain Muzaliwa and other immigrants even after it becomes “extremely unlikely” that they’d be removed from the country.
ICE’s after-the-fact detention policy has been in place for years, and it means that people like Muzaliwa are housed in immigration “transitional” or “processing” centers well after they’ve served their sentences, even when they’re not facing deportation.
Before going further, here’s a quick note for our gentle reader: the American immigration system is laden with euphemisms, as immigration jails are referred to as transitional or processing centers, much the same way as “deportation” has been replaced with “removal.” And if you are facing a lifetime of banishment from the U.S., you are referred to as “respondent” instead of defendant, and you are not entitled to an attorney free of charge, because immigration proceedings are “administrative” and not punitive. Orwell is rolling over as we speak…
The article refers to Muzaltwa, who was granted cancellation of deportation against all odds, and to “other immigrants” who are “extremely unlikely” that they’d be removed from the country. The latter mostly consists of foreign nationals whose country of origin will simply not take them back as a matter of policy, meaning that Muzaltwa is being kept in a cage despite the fact that an immigration judge has cancelled his deportation and no charges are pending against him:
“The practice of holding people in jail after they’ve been granted humanitarian protection is unconstitutional, and it’s unjust,” said Kirsten Schubert, a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney and an adjunct professor with the University of Minnesota Law School’s Center for New Americans. “It keeps them away from their families and communities for months without reason.”
The lawsuit seeks to represent other immigrants detained under the St. Paul office’s “blanket” policy – a 90-day detention period that Schubert says is inconsistent with ICE’s national guidelines. The legal team has counted about 40 immigrants who have been similarly detained in Minnesota in recent years.
Muzaltwa is being held in a county jail after the immigration court has disposed of his case. This means that the criminal justice system gets additional burdens and costs as a result of ICE’s policy. ICE does not foot the bill for this, and some localities have simply refused to go along with ICE’s policy of holding inmates for immigration purposes in local jails, regardless of whether criminal charges are pending. It also means that a non-violent immigrant who has been granted relief in immigration court is held in custody with other inmates facing serious charges in our criminal justice system. Given the fact that ICE has been short of stellar in even determining who has legal status, this is the proverbial “recipe for disaster.”
But, even if Muzaltwa has a legit habeas corpus petition, it is unlikely that it will create a relevant precedent that would help others in a similar predicament.
It’s tough to challenge such detentions on an individual basis because an immigrant might be released before a case makes it through the court system, said Becky Cassler a third-year law student at the University of Minnesota. “So before you get a chance to make law that becomes precedential, they might be released.”
The government can always say “never mind,” or “nothing to see here,” when it is possible it may not prevail, as it did in the U.S. v. Apple fiasco. It can always fold its hand, and simply wait for the next round. It must be good to be king. It’s cold blooded indeed.