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Some US immigration detainees win quicker hearings
Immigration detainee held for years without bail hearing wins US appeal
By The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) ' The Justice Department may not hold immigrants fighting deportation for years without bail hearings, a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia ruled.

It was unreasonable to detain a Pennsylvania man for nearly three years as he fought deportation to his native Senegal over a 1995 drug case, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled. The ruling would grant other detainees held within the 3rd Circuit ' which includes Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware ' the right to faster bail hearings.

"We do not believe that Congress intended to authorize prolonged, unreasonable, detention without a bond hearing," Judge Julio M. Fuentes of Newark, N.J., wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents plaintiff Cheikh Diop, argued in January that 500 to 1,000 of the 35,000 people then detained by U.S. Department of Homeland Security had languished in custody for at least six months without bail hearings. The group believes their prolonged detention violates both the Immigration and Nationality Act and the detainees' right to due process.

The ACLU had asked for a six-month time limit for bail hearings, a deadline the Justice Department opposed.

On that point, the court sided with the government, saying each case must be weighed on its own merits.

"We decline to adopt such a one-size-fits-all approach. Reasonableness, by its very nature, is a fact-dependent inquiry requiring an assessment of all of the circumstances of any given case," Fuentes of Newark, N.J., wrote in the lengthy opinion.

Diop fled Senegal in 1990 amid torture and political persecution, his lawyers said. He settled in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., worked for years as a restaurant cook and had four American-born children. In 1995, he pleaded guilty to selling $100 worth of cocaine.

Twelve years later, he was detained over the conviction and slated for deportation. He was then being held at a U.S. detention center in York.

Neither the Justice Department nor ACLU lawyers immediately returned calls for comment from The Associated Press on Thursday.

The Justice Department charged that detainees like Diop are often to blame for their prolonged detentions because they file numerous criminal appeals and other motions to avoid deportation.

Diop had his Luzerne County guilty plea overturned in November because the judge found he was not told of the deportation risk and therefore did not enter his plea knowingly. The county prosecutor is appealing that decision, Diop's lawyer has said.

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