August 11, 2009 / 12:03 AM / 10 years ago

U.S. judge allows hearing on immigrants' detention

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A federal judge ruled on Monday that two immigrants detained by U.S. authorities were entitled to a hearing to determine whether they have been held for too long, saying their constitutional rights may have been violated.

But U.S. District Judge John Jones III of the Middle District of Pennsylvania rejected a request by the American Civil Liberties Union to recognize them as a class, a step that could have entitled other detained immigrants to a hearing on the legality of their detentions.

Elliot Grenade, a lawful permanent resident originally from Trinidad and Tobago, is fighting deportation based on a drug offense and has been detained in Pennsylvania for about 20 months after having lived in the United States for 28 years.

The other plaintiff is Alexander Alli, also a legal permanent resident, who came from Ghana in 1990 and is under threat of deportation because of convictions related to credit card fraud. He has been in detention for nine months.

“The court concurs with the growing consensus within this district and, indeed it appears throughout the federal courts, that prolonged detention of aliens raises serious constitutional concerns,” the judge wrote in a 33-page opinion.

He ordered attorneys for the men to say within 20 days whether they want to hold a hearing that would determine whether their constitutional rights have been violated by prolonged detention.

But he declined to declare them as members of a class action, saying that was beyond the court’s jurisdiction.

Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants Rights Project, called the decision a “partial victory” for the plaintiffs because it will give them a chance to argue against their detention in court.

“He rejected the government’s argument that individuals can be detained for as long as it takes,” she said.

But she said the ruling will not have the wider impact that would have applied if the judge had declared class certification.

The ACLU says the U.S. Department of Homeland Security detains, on an average day, roughly 33,400 non-citizens in federal detention facilities and local jails across the country, over a threefold increase since 10 years ago.

Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Beech

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