New FFF Report: U.S. District Court Circumvents Immigrants Constitutional Right to Challenge Detention

New FFF Report: U.S. District Court Circumvents Immigrants Constitutional Right to Challenge Detention

New York, NY November 16, 2016– Families for Freedom (FFF) and New York University (NYU) School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, today released a report that reveals shocking and alarming patterns of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) abuse and deceit towards the Northern District of Alabama district court as well as immigrants detained in Alabama. The report “The Writ of Habeas Corpus: How a United States District Court Circumvents Oversight of Unlawful Detention” reveals that the Northern District of Alabama has abdicated its constitutional responsibility as the primary protector of individual liberty in Alabama - allowing ICE to judge and banish people without a just day in court.

The only legal instrument available to immigrants detained and awaiting removal to another country is the legal petition at the core of this report: the writ of habeas corpus. The writ of habeas corpus protects people against illegal deprivation of liberty by the government.

Since 2010, the Northern District of Alabama has not granted a single habeas corpus petition.In some cases where there were allegations that ICE was attempting to deport people with fraudulent foreign travel documents or to countries where the person had never been, the court did not even attempt to inquire further, as is their constitutional duty.

In most instances, after immigrants file habeas corpus petitions, ICE removes or temporarily releases the detainee and moves to dismiss the habeas corpus petition as moot, thereby circumventing judicial review and leaving the immigrant with no adjudication of the claims that prolonged detention was illegal.  Those released can be re-detained at any time, because their original claims that they could not be removed to any country were never adjudicated. Without the outside intervention of courts, ICE is completely unaccountable, free to abuse its own internal review system for evaluating detention and free to remove people to countries without valid entry documents, rendering them undocumented upon deportation.

Families For Freedom’s Executive Director Abraham Paulos had this to say: “The fact that ICE removes or releases detainees before the Court can make a decision is an indication of ICE’s concerns that their detention of immigrants are illegal and it would not hold up in court.”


Key Findings:

  • Since 2010, the Northern District of Alabama has not granted a single habeas corpus petition.
  • Almost all (94.2%) of habeas corpus petitions filed by immigrants detained at Etowah County were filed without a lawyer.
  • The  Northern District of Alabama has only formally adjudicated and published opinions for habeas corpus petitions that have been denied.
  • Despite the factual disputes between immigrant detainees and ICE raised in every petition filed, the court did not hold a single hearing.
  • In the rare instances when the Northern District of Alabama has called for a hearing to assess the legality of an immigrant’s continued detention, ICE either releases the person temporarily or deports them and the Court dismisses the case as moot.
  • In 43% of the cases where ICE deported detainees, ICE fails to inform the court of the country of removal and fails to include any form of travel document to assure the court that detainees were able to lawfully enter the receiving country.

Click here for more Key Findings and the Full Report


Etowah County Detention Center should not detain immigrants.  We support the shutting down of the immigration detention center at Etowah.

Pending closure we recommend the following;

  • The Court in the Northern District of Alabama should order and hold evidentiary hearings in all cases where there are factual disputes as is required by the Habeas Corpus statute, immediately after the government has responded to the detainee’s petition.
  • The Court should only grant extensions to the government when they have shown good cause. The habeas corpus challenges unlawful deprivation of liberty therefore it is crucial that the person’s ongoing detention during litigation is a serious factor in the Court.
  • The Court should require ICE to always provide proof of valid travel documents used to deport detainees. The Court should also require ICE to list and provide proof as to the country to which detainees were removed.
  • The Court should require ICE to provide detailed information as to attempts to secure travel documents (embassy contact attempts, letters, interviews, etc.).
  • The Court should grant habeas corpus petitions where detainees have included proof that travel documents will not be issued by their embassies, paying particular attention to when detainees have been re-detained after previous release. Under Zadvydas, the court should view proof that travel documents will not be issued as evidence that removal is not reasonably foreseeable.                                                       


Click here for more Recommendations and the Full Report