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ACLU fights mandatory jail time for detainees

Immigrants who are arrested or charged with a crime can face severe penalties, including mandatory incarceration. Even legal U.S. residents face mandatory jail time and potentially deportation over a minor or non-violent crime. Immigrants in Miami, Florida and nationwide may be impacted by a current lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of detainees.

According to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a 53-year-old Jamaica native, who is a legal U.S. resident, was convicted of possessing a small amount of marijuana in 1995. Unexpectedly, 17 years later, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency showed up on his doorstep and took him into custody. He has been sitting in a jail cell for the past 8 months and has little hope of bail. According to the agency, the man was under arrest and facing deportation because of the marijuana conviction.

The case was filed in New Jersey but could have national implications. Currently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit is challenging the federal government's practice of mandatory incarceration for immigration detainees. The lawsuit asserts that the government unnecessarily incarcerates and deports candidates even if they are documented citizens and pose no flight risk or threat.

According to the ACLU, it is a violation of rights to detain immigrants who have a legal right to be in the United States. There are hundreds of federal detainees in the same position as the man named in the lawsuit. They are being held and face deportation because of prior criminal offenses. Most of the inmates possess green cards or other forms of documentation verifying their residence. Many are long-term U.S. residents with jobs and a right to stay in the country.

The lawsuit also alleges that the ICE misinforms immigration detainees of their right to contest mandatory detention. The detainees have little chance of returning home until their proceedings have been completed, which can take months or years. The lawsuit aims to change federal practices that could be in violation of immigrant residents' civil liberties.

Source: The Star-Ledger, "ACLU lawsuit fights mandatory jail time for immigration detainees," James Queally, Nov. 16, 2012

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