Groups Argue ICE is Illegally Detaining Men who Won Immigration Cases

REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
The badge of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent is seen during an operation with migrants being transferred to a plane to be expelled under U.S. Title 42 from the United States to their country by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and Border Patrol agents, at the airport in El Paso, Texas, U.S., May 10, 2023.

One man came to immigration authorities’ attention because of a traffic stop. Another served a sentence for a second DUI offense. Yet another was convicted of something his lawyer declined to specify.

All three undocumented immigrants from Central America persuaded judges they would likely face persecution or torture if deported to their home countries. But their lawyers say that for months they’ve remained unnecessarily detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at facilities in Virginia – in violation of ICE policies.

A coalition filed suit this week in federal court to compel their release, saying their continued holding – as ICE determines whether they can be deported elsewhere – violates constitutional protections against indefinite and arbitrary detentions.

“They shouldn’t have been detained even a single day past winning their [immigration] cases, and to keep them for three more months for no reason is illegal in our eyes,” said Austin Rose, a lawyer for the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition, which filed alongside the National Immigration Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

According to the lawsuit, none of the men have a connection to any other country, so it is unlikely that ICE will prevail in deporting them elsewhere after judges have ruled they cannot be returned to their countries of origin. “ICE has not informed any of the Petitioners to which specific countries it is purportedly attempting to remove them,” the lawsuit says.

An ICE spokesman declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

Rose said the agency may claim that the men pose a danger to the community, but he discounted that argument.

“To the extent they have any criminal convictions, they have already served whatever time or probation was required for that,” Rose said. “Now ICE is having them in indefinite civil detention based on their own allegation about what is dangerous.”

“So even if ICE is right that they’re dangerous, which we of course disagree with,” Rose added, “that’s not a basis to continue to hold them in civil immigration detention.”

One of the men was born in Honduras, entered the United States in 1996 and has lived here ever since, the lawsuit says. His lawyers, to protect his privacy, redacted his name from the lawsuit filing that they provided with a news release. The case’s online court docket gives it as Luis A. Rios Castro.

Rose said ICE detained the man after he completed a sentence for a second DUI. “People serve their time and think they’re going to be released from the criminal system, but ICE identifies them and picks them up,” he said.

In April, a judge granted the man a form of protection called “withholding of removal” that shields foreign nationals from deportation, the lawsuit says.

Another of the men, 28-year-old Carlos Guzman Lopez, was born in El Salvador and came to the United States in 2017 to escape persecution and torture, the lawsuit says. In December 2022, a judge granted him deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture, “finding that he would more likely than not be tortured by the Salvadoran police, military, and gang members if returned to El Salvador,” the lawsuit says.

ICE appealed the judge’s decision, but the appeal was dismissed in April, according to the lawsuit.

A criminal conviction is redacted from the filing that Guzman Lopez’s lawyers provided, and Rose declined to specify it. Court records in Alexandria show that a man with the same name and date of birth pleaded guilty last year to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and indecent liberties in crimes involving a girl under 13. The disposition required that he register as a sex offender.

“I just don’t think this is quite relevant, because if the sole basis for ICE to detain him is because they believe he’s dangerous for something he already served his time for, than they could theoretically detain him for the rest of his life, which is just not legal,” Rose said. “So for the same reason, after he won his immigration case, there’s no reason to continue detaining him.”

The third litigant, German Cano Fuentes, came from El Salvador and was granted deferral of removal in March, the lawsuit says. ICE detained him in August 2022 during a traffic stop. Rose said he has no criminal history in the United States and was picked up as a passenger during the stop.

The lawsuit alleges that ICE’s Washington field office has a practice of holding onto detainees that contradicts ICE’s national policy. Rose said he and other legal advocates have tracked more than a dozen such cases. He said it’s likely the men will be released within a few months, regardless of a legal challenge, but that “every additional day of ICE detention is a significant harm that we don’t take lightly.”