HARRISBURG – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal lawsuit today against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on behalf of a man who has been imprisoned in the York County Prison despite the U.S. government’s inability to deport him to his native Sierra Leone.
Mamadu Balde immigrated to the United States in 1999 when his home country was torn apart by civil war. His application for asylum was denied, but when ICE attempted to deport him in 2012, Sierra Leonean officials could not confirm his citizenship and refused to issue travel documents for his entry into the country. After nine months in prison, Balde was released. Since then, he has lived and worked in West Virginia with his wife, who is a U.S. citizen.
But in June, during a regular check-in with ICE agents, Balde was detained and sent to York County Prison, where he is currently held, with no prospect of deportation. He had committed no infractions and had fully complied with all ICE supervision conditions.
“The U.S. government has detained a hardworking family man who cannot be deported in order to deport him,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and one of Mr. Balde’s lawyers. “If that doesn’t make sense, it shouldn’t because his detention is flatly unconstitutional.”
In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Zadvydas v. Davis that the U.S. government cannot detain non-citizens who cannot be deported because their native country refuses to accept them. Otherwise, the Court ruled, the government could detain people indefinitely, which is unconstitutional. Since Sierra Leone has repeatedly refused to accept Mr. Balde, including in the past two months, the U.S. government has no legal basis to detain him and the detention is, thus, unconstitutional.
After nearly 20 years in this country, Mr. Balde has been convicted of two minor criminal charges and none since 2010. In 2006, he was convicted in New York of motor vehicle violations, and in 2010, he was convicted in Ohio of misuse of a credit card. Neither of his crimes is serious enough to require his deportation. The basis for his deportation is that he entered in the late 1990s without permission.
Before his detention, Balde had been employed as a driver for Uber for two years. He has worked steadily and paid all taxes. He provides financially for his 13-year-old niece and 15-year-old nephew, who live in New York City. The children were orphaned when Balde’s sister died. Balde is now unable to help them financially due to his lack of income while in jail.
When he lived in Sierra Leone, a rebel group attacked his hometown and separated people by ethnicity. Balde is a member of the Fulani tribe, a minority in Sierra Leone. In the attack, the rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front, burned Balde’s home and destroyed his personal documents. He was also separated from his parents and his sister, whom he never saw again.
“Mr. Balde suffered real tragedy in his African homeland,” said Ashley Lively, of JBM Legal LLC, Mr. Balde’s immigration lawyer. “This plainly unconstitutional detention is incredibly unfair to Mr. Balde, who has been a caring husband, devoted uncle, and productive employee for many years.”
The lawsuit, which the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed with cooperating counsel from JBM Legal, LLC in Pittsburgh, states that ICE has violated Balde’s constitutional right to due process.
Balde is represented by Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and Ashley Lively of JBM Legal, LLC.
The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and a copy of the complaint is available at aclupa.org/balde.