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ACLU and Immigrants' Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School Argue in Federal Court Today That Prolonged Indefinite Detention of Immigrants Is Illegal

Publication Date: 
January 07, 2008
Stanford Law School

PASADENA, Calif., January 7, 2008—In a federal appellate court in California today, the American Civil Liberties Union is arguing that the government is violating the law and the court's prior rulings by incarcerating immigrants in detention centers for prolonged and indefinite periods of time while they fight their immigration cases.

In November 2006, the ACLU of Southern California, the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project and the Stanford Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic filed lawsuits in federal district court on behalf of four immigrant men who were being held indefinitely in the Terminal Island Federal Detention Center in San Pedro, California, while they pursued legitimate legal challenges to their pending deportations. All four had been detained for prolonged periods of time and yet had never received a bond hearing to determine if their detentions were justified. Shortly after the lawsuits were filed, the district court ordered the government to provide the men with bond hearings. By February 2007, all four were released.

The government appealed the district court's decision in three of the four prolonged detention cases. Two of these cases - involving the Reverend Raymond Soeoth and Amadou Lamine Diouf - are being argued before the court today. In addition, two separate cases of immigrants Luis Felipe Casas-Castrillon and Manuel Prieto-Romero are being argued today. Casas-Castrillo and Prieto-Romero have been illegally detained for six and three years respectively. The ACLU filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the those two cases which were argued today by attorneys from the Federal Defenders Office of San Diego and the Northwest Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project in Washington.

"Under our Constitution, the government cannot detain immigrants without basic due process protections" said Jayashri Srikantiah, associate professor of law and director of the Immigrants' Rights Clinic, part of the Mills Legal Clinic, at Stanford Law School.

"Locking people up for years without bond hearings is un-American," said Ahilan Arulanantham, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California arguing today on behalf of Diouf and Soeoth. "The constitutional guarantee of due process applies to all persons in this country, not just to U.S. citizens. The government does not have unfettered authority to imprison people - without hearings - for as long as it takes to determine their cases."

Diouf, one of the released detainees, initially came to the United States when he was 21 years old to study information systems at California State University, Northridge. After he graduated, he overstayed his student visa because he became involved with, and subsequently married, his present wife. Although he is eligible to become a lawful permanent resident based on his marriage to a U.S. citizen, the government detained him after his former immigration attorney failed to file important legal papers on time. His attorney acknowledged his error, but the government refused to release Diouf or to provide him with a bond hearing while he fought his case. Diouf had been incarcerated for almost two years before he was finally provided with a bond hearing before an immigration judge who ordered his release.

"I was separated from my wife and career for almost two years because of an innocent mistake in the filing of my immigration papers," said Diouf. "I'm not a danger to society. All I want is to be with my wife and get a job."

Soeoth, the other released detainee whose case is being argued today, is a Christian who fled Indonesia with his wife in 1999 to escape persecution for practicing his faith. He was initially allowed to work in the United States while applying for asylum and eventually became the assistant minister for a church. However, when his asylum application was denied in 2004, the government arrested him at his home and took him into detention.

For the next two and a half years the government refused to consider his release, even though he filed a motion to reopen his asylum case on the grounds that his new role as a pastor placed him at increased risk of persecution in Indonesia, and even though the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stopped his deportation to allow him to pursue his case. Soeoth was imprisoned for two and a half years before he was finally ordered released on bond by an immigration judge last February.

"This has been very hard for my wife and for my parish," said Soeoth. "I can't understand why in America I must choose between two evils: going back to Indonesia to face persecution or being detained while I fight for asylum."

Although neither Diouf nor Soeoth is a danger to society or a flight risk, the government claims they never should have been released on bond and should go back into detention until their cases are decided, regardless of how long this may take.

"The government's detention policy is not only unlawful and inhumane; it is also irrational," said Judy Rabinovitz, senior staff counsel with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, who is also arguing before the court today. "The government is spending millions of dollars locking up people whose detention serves no purpose. These individuals are ready to comply with conditions of supervision and even electronic monitoring if necessary. There is no reason for them to be locked up for years while their cases make their way through the courts."

Over the past few years, the ACLU has filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of individual immigrants who have been held for prolonged periods of time while fighting their immigration cases, winning the release of more than a dozen individuals who were being unlawfully detained.

Today's cases are being argued in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Lawyers on the case include Rabinovitz and Cecillia D. Wang of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, Arulanantham and Ranjana Natarajan of the ACLU of Southern California, and Jayashri Srikantiah of the Stanford Law School Immigrants' Rights Clinic.

More information on the lawsuits, Soeoth v. Mukasey, Mukasey v. Diouf, Casas-Castrillon v. Lockyer, and Prieto-Romero v. Clark is available online at the ACLU's website.

About the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

The Immigrants' Rights Clinic (IRC) at Stanford Law School is committed to protecting the human rights of all non-citizens regardless of immigration status. Clinic Director Jayashri Srikantiah and Jennifer H. Lee, the clinic’s Cooley Godward Kronish Fellow, supervise students on direct services and legal advocacy projects. Students in the clinic represent individual immigrants in a variety of settings and since the clinic’s inception, students have sought humanitarian relief from deportation on behalf of non-citizens with criminal convictions, obtained asylum protection for non-citizens fleeing persecution, and assisted immigrant survivors of domestic violence in gaining lawful status in the United States. The clinic’s webpage is at:

About the Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School runs a variety of clinics that litigate in a number of specialized fields, including immigrants’ rights, community law, cyberlaw, environmental protection, and educational advocacy. The clinics operate cohesively as a single law firm—the Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School (MLC)—and provide pro bono representation to the public. Clinical courses are structured as supervised settings that teach students: how to work with clients and colleagues, how to address the ethical dilemmas that arise in practice, and how to apply legal concepts taught hypothetically or in the abstract in the classroom to a real world, client representation situation. Overall, the MLC has the capacity for every student to take one clinical course at some point during their three years at Stanford Law School. The school’s long term goal is to expand the number and range of its clinical courses and develop a “clinical rotation” where students take only a clinic during a particular quarter—with no competing exams or classes. Expanding the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic and other course offerings within the Mills Legal Clinic is a central part of the comprehensive curricular innovation underway at Stanford Law School. The Mills Legal Clinic homepage is located at:

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, and write books and articles for academic audiences, as well as the popular press. Along with offering traditional law school classes, the school has embraced new subjects and new ways of teaching. The school’s home page is located at


Maria Archuleta
ACLU national
212 519.7808 or 212 549.2666

Michael Soller
ACLU of Southern California
213 977.5252


Jayashri Srikantiah
Associate Professor of Law (Teaching) and Director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic
650 724.2442

Judith Romero
Associate Director of Media Relations
650 723.2232