ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, the National Immigration Project, and the ACLU of Virginia are suing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on behalf of three Central American men whom ICE is arbitrarily detaining months after the men won immigration cases that protected them from deportation to their countries of origin where they face persecution, torture, or death.
“Continuing to hold our clients in detention for no good reason violates the Constitution, immigration law, and ICE’s own policy,” said Austin Rose, Senior Attorney for CAIR Coalition’s Immigration Impact Lab. “Through writs of federal habeas corpus, we are asking the federal district court to order our clients’ immediate release from ICE custody and to compel ICE to follow its own policy going forward.”
An immigration judge granted each of the three men withholding of removal or relief under the U.N. Convention Against Torture (CAT). Judges grant these forms of relief when a person would likely face severe persecution or torture if deported to their country of origin.
Mr. Cano Fuentes, a citizen of El Salvador, was granted CAT deferral of removal in March 2023, but is still being detained at Farmville Detention Center in Virginia along with “Mr. Gonzalez,” a pseudonym for a citizen of Honduras who was granted withholding of removal a month after Mr. Cano Fuentes. Mr. Guzman Lopez is a citizen of El Salvador who was granted CAT relief in May 2023, yet he, too, is still being detained at Caroline Detention Facility in Virginia.
These men are not alone. In fact, since legal counsel in the case began tracking the release dates of non-citizens detained in Virginia who have been granted withholding of removal or protection under CAT, in all but one case (13 of 14), ICE continued to detain the non-citizen for at least three months after they had won their cases.
That practice is in clear violation of ICE's own policies. Since 2000, it has been the government’s policy to promptly release non-citizens granted withholding of removal or protection under CAT. ICE has repeatedly reissued and strengthened this policy over the years, stating, “It is ICE policy to favor the release of [non-citizens] who have been granted protection relief by an immigration judge, absent exceptional concerns such as national security issues or danger to the community.”
ICE’s longstanding release policy – followed by many ICE offices throughout the country – conforms with the constitutional protections against indefinite and arbitrary detentions. But the failure of ICE’s Virginia office to follow that policy ignores these important protections.
"ICE is in clear violation of even its own policies by continuing to detain our clients months after they already won their immigration cases," said Amber Qureshi, staff attorney for the National Immigration Project. "It is unconscionable for ICE to continue disrupting our clients' lives and depriving them of their constitutional rights. Our clients must be released immediately and allowed to return home to their families and communities."
ICE is purportedly keeping Mr. Cano Fuentes, Mr. Gonzalez, and Mr. Guzman Lopez in detention because they are seeking to deport them to an alternative country that is not their country of origin — despite the fact that these men have neither citizenship nor any connection to another country.
While ICE is authorized to deport individuals to other countries, a number of factors make it extremely rare for a third country to willingly accept a U.S. deportee. For one, there are restrictive criteria for the countries to which the men can be removed. What’s more, these individuals have the right to pursue relief from deportation with respect to the proposed alternative country. The government’s own data shows that less than three percent of people granted withholding of removal or CAT relief are actually removed to an alternative country.
The litigation filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia argues that the actions of the ICE Washington Field Office, which oversees both the Caroline and Farmville Detention Centers where the individuals are being detained, defy both the letter of the law and the intent of DHS policies.
“It is clear that ICE has known for months that there is no legal basis to detain these men. Every day they refuse to release them, they are violating the law and causing these men, their families, and their communities irreparable harm,” said Sophia Gregg, Immigrants’ Rights Attorney for the ACLU of Virginia. “We can’t stand by while our clients languish in facilities from which they should have already been released.”