U sues over Minnesotan detentions

Groups like the Law School are trying to prevent officials from illegally detaining immigrants.

Hannah Weikel

The University of Minnesota Law School and other groups at are claiming a federal organization is unlawfully detaining immigrants.
 
 
The University’s Center for New Americans, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and other groups, filed a class action lawsuit Monday that claims the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s St. Paul field office is holding six immigrants in county jails around the state after judges ruled that those individuals cannot be deported to their native country.
 
 
One of the petitioners is a citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo and has been held by ICE in Sherburne County Jail since January, when he was granted relief from deportation under the United Nation’s Convention Against Torture, court documents said.
 
 
The convention allows immigrants who face deportation to prove they will be tortured or persecuted in their home country upon return, said Immigration and Human Rights Center  associate professor Emily Good.
 
 
There are at least six people in Minnesota who were granted similar “humanitarian relief” but who are still detained in county jails, in addition to at least 40 other similar cases in the last four years, said Teresa Nelson, ALCU MN’s legal director. He added that ICE does not have the authority to hold someone if their removal from the U.S. is not likely.
 
 
“[ICE’s St. Paul field office’s] practice is contrary to what the guidance is from ICE [nationally], and we believe that this happens in other field offices, but not to the degree that it’s happening here,” Nelson said.
 
 
The ICE St. Paul field office, which works in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, declined to comment because the litigation against them is pending.
 
 
In some cases, ICE can detain immigrants for up to 90 days, according to the federal Immigration and Nationality Act. 
 
 
But Nelson said that shouldn’t extend to people who are given relief from an immigration judge and are likely to stay in the U.S. 
 
 
University Law School students Becky Cassler and Brent Johnson, who are helping with the case for class, both said the suit’s goal is to make the St. Paul field office maintain the same polices as the national ICE office. That office requires the release of detainees unless they are a citizen of a country other than the U.S. and their native country and unless there is a request for that country to grant them asylum.
 
 
Johnson said many of the immigrants ICE is trying to remove have a criminal history in the U.S. but have already served time, which means they are being punished again by being unlawfully held.
 
 
Good said ICE is funded by Congress, which gives money based on detentions. The more people, she said, the more funds ICE receives.
 
 
“Basically every person who has been granted relief is being held for an additional 90 days. Not exactly sure why they’re doing it, but they are certainly on notice that it’s likely unconstitutional,” Nelson said.