- Alina Dasprofessor at the NYU School of Law, where she co-directs the Immigrant Rights Clinic, which helped produce the website ProlongedDetentionStories.org.
- Hilarion JosephU.S. Army veteran originally from Trinidad. He was held for three years and two months in immigrant detention without a bond hearing when he faced deportation after his conviction for transporting weapons. He eventually won his case and was released in 2007. This year, he became a U.S. citizen.
Promises by President-elect Donald Trump to deport millions of immigrants have drawn new attention to whether they can be detained indefinitely as they fight their cases. Currently immigrants have no right to a bond hearing. This is different from U.S. citizens who face trial in criminal court and can have a judge examine their case and determine if they should remain in jail until it is resolved. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court held a hearing on this issue in a case that could give immigrants the same right. We speak with Alina Das, a professor at the NYU School of Law, where she co-directs the Immigrant Rights Clinic, and with Hilarion Joseph, who was held for three years and two months in immigrant detention without a bond hearing when he faced deportation after his conviction for transporting weapons. He won his case and was released, and this year he became a U.S. citizen.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our last segment. Promises by President-elect Donald Trump to deport millions of immigrants have drawn new attention to whether they can be detained indefinitely as they fight their cases. Currently, immigrants have no right to a bond hearing. This is different from U.S. citizens who face trial in criminal court and can have a judge examine their case and determine if they should remain in jail until it’s resolved. Well, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court held a hearing on this issue in a case that could give immigrants the same right. In this video, an immigrant named Alex Lora explains how he was detained before our next guest helped him win a bond hearing after he was held for six months.
ALEXANDER LORA: My mother brought me from the Dominican Republic. I was seven years old when I got my green card. Most of my family is here, so I don’t be going back and forth to the Dominican Republic. Right here, this is home. I’ve been here my whole life.
In 2009, I was working in a grocery store when the police officers rush in. They say, “We got a search warrant.” They put the cuffs on me, put me on my knees, started searching the store. They went into the cash register area. The person that was there had drugs on them. Because that person had drugs on them, everybody gets arrested.
NARRATION: In 2010, Mr. Lora pled guilty to a drug offense. The court agreed that he deserved no jail time and gave him probation.
ALEXANDER LORA: My lawyer advised me that it was just nothing, was just going to be five years’ probation, and it will be a slap on the wrist. Well, my lawyer advised me wrong. If I have known the problem I was going to have today, I would not plead guilty to it.
When I started probation, I used to go every week, then every other week, once a month, for about three years. And then ICE came to my house around 5:00 in the morning. They say, “We got a warrant for your arrest.” And I said, “I don’t have no warrant. I’m good.” There was like five cars around me, 10 people everywhere. They grabbed me. They put shackles on me. They put chains on my waist, right in the middle of the street with everybody looking in the morning. The first thing the officer said to me was that I’m getting deported, that there was nothing I could do. It’s like you’re going through hell. Five, six people around you like if you killed someone.
Then they took me to Jersey, like the government kidnapped me, kept me away from my family and friends, my loved ones. Those detention centers are run the same way as jail, maybe worse. You’re always cold. They never turn off the AC. They give you a mattress that’s maybe an inch thick. The type of food that they give you, I wouldn’t even give it to my dog. You can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t use the bathroom in peace. And all you see is people crying every day. Some people in there are in there for years. I’m lucky I just did six months.
Immigration center says that you’re not in jail. If I’m not in jail, why are you keeping me here for so long? They also tell you that if you want to leave, sign, get deported. After 15 days of being in there, I just wanted to sign and get out. I think I’d rather be free in the Dominican Republic than being locked up in jail.
AMY GOODMAN: So that was Alex Lora, who received free legal representation from a service funded by New York City and won the right to have a bond hearing after six months. He is now out on bail. One of his lawyers was our guest, Alina Das, a professor at the NYU School of Law, where she co-directs the Immigrant Rights Clinic. Also with us, Hilarion Joseph, originally from Trinidad, held for three years and two months in immigrant detention without a bond hearing when he faced deportation after his conviction for transporting weapons. He eventually won his case, was released in 2007. This year, he became a U.S. citizen.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Alina Das, talk about Alex and how this happened and what this means. How many people are in this similar situation?
ALINA DAS: Right. Well, Alex is an example of what’s happening all across the country. He’s a lawful permanent resident who’s been here since he was seven years old, lived his life as an American. Yet when it came down to immigration detention and deportation, he wasn’t given his basic due process rights. He had to fight his way out of the system. And now we have to see whether or not the rule in his case, that immigrants should get a bond hearing if they’re detained for six months, will be applied across the country.
AMY GOODMAN: He was held for six months. Hilarion, you were held for over three years in detention. In different detention jails or in only one?
HILARION JOSEPH: Different detentions, yes. And in those three years and, I believe, about two or three months, the conditions were extremely uncomfortable. It was made that where we would be, it was a form of intimidation, so that we can be forced to either sign out and be deported. So, like myself and many of the other immigrants who have been detained, we have had to go through extreme uncomfortable conditions so that we can make a decision either to stay and suffer or to go back to our countries. And we were told to do this by the correction officers. We were told that even for like the veterans, “Why did you come to this country? What was the reason for coming here?” And now to be deported back to your country, I mean, you waste your time serving this country, and now you have to go back.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, now, explain that. I mean, for our radio audience, they are not seeing you right now.
HILARION JOSEPH: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re wearing your military uniform.
HILARION JOSEPH: Yes, I am.
AMY GOODMAN: You are a decorated veteran of the Gulf War.
HILARION JOSEPH: Correct. That is correct.
AMY GOODMAN: You come back from serving in the Gulf.
HILARION JOSEPH: Correct.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re imprisoned for three years.
HILARION JOSEPH: And initially, for the crime that was committed, I was given probation. And during the probation period, I became ill, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and I moved from where I lived to my mom, where I can get better health. And I was violated for that purpose, and I was given six months’ imprisonment for that violation. And after completing the violation of probation, immigration put a hold on me. And like I said—
AMY GOODMAN: So, it’s six months in prison, three years in detention.
HILARION JOSEPH: That is correct.
AMY GOODMAN: How old was your son?
HILARION JOSEPH: The truth about the matter is, my son, at that time, I didn’t have knowledge that he existed. I had no knowledge that he existed. And I only found out about my son after being released from immigration detention. And by that time, he was eight years old.
AMY GOODMAN: And now you’ve become an American citizen.
HILARION JOSEPH: Yes, yes. I became an American citizen on the 21st of September.
AMY GOODMAN: What did that mean to you?
HILARION JOSEPH: Wow. You know, I remembered when I first joined the military and serving in my unit, the—it’s called color guard, where the soldiers would hoist the flag. And I remember the first time I did it, I felt like I was a complete part of this country when this was done. And when I received my citizenship, I felt the same way. Now I feel like I don’t have the reason to fear. I don’t feel like I have to be concerned if I’m going to have to leave my family again, my children again, or if ICE is going to be knocking at my door at whatever time in the morning. So, having my citizenship gives me the comfort that I believe that every immigrant, especially the veterans, should have. I believe that they should be able to be in their home and not be worried or concerned whether ICE is going to, you know, be coming to pick them up, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Alina Das, talk about the significance of Wednesday’s hearing and then what happens now under President Donald Trump.
ALINA DAS: Sure. Well, the hearing on Wednesday before the Supreme Court is for a case that’s all about this nightmare situation that Hilarion has gone through, about preventing people spending months or years in detention without even the ability to ask a judge to hear out whether they should be released to their families. So we want to see the Supreme Court stand up and send a clear message that constitutional protections do apply to immigrants in detention, and due process does require this minimum right to be able to ask someone for your chance to be released. And this is important now more than ever. Immigration detention was skyrocketing even under the Obama administration. But given President-elect Trump’s comments, we expect it to increase even more. And he needs to know that if he’s going to be locking up people, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to throw away the key, and that American values, the kind of values that Hilarion fought for, are the kinds of values that we need to protect for all of the immigrants living in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: The justices were taken aback when the government argued maybe 20 years is a long time in detention, but not three?
ALINA DAS: Absolutely. When I heard the attorney for the government make that statement, when he said three years would be just fine, I thought—
AMY GOODMAN: These are people who have not been convicted of a crime, jailed for years.
ALINA DAS: Well, it’s true. The statute applies both to people who are coming to the country as asylum seekers, with no criminal record, just asking for our protection, as well as people like Hilarion, who may have had a criminal conviction in their past that they’ve already done their time for. This is a second punishment.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Alina, you held a clinic on Monday. How many people turned out?
ALINA DAS: We had almost 700 people come to our teach-in.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you expect this?
ALINA DAS: You know, it was hard to know what to expect. Fear is running rampant throughout our communities, and we wanted to turn that fear into action.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Hilarion Joseph, detained three years, now a U.S. citizen, served in the Gulf War. Alina Das, lawyer and professor at NYU Law School’s Immigrant Rights Clinic.
That does it for our broadcast. Join us next Monday, December 5th, at Riverside Church for Democracy Now!’s 20th anniversary celebration here in New York. Among those there will be Harry Belafonte, Noam Chomsky, Patti Smith, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Tom Morello, Juan González and many, many more. Visit democracynow.org for details.