Cuban asylum seekers fight for their freedom despite ICE’s violation of the Constitution and federal law
LUMPKIN, Ga. – On Friday, January 22, eight Cubans filed a group habeas petition in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, seeking their immediate release from Stewart Detention Center (SDC), an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison in Lumpkin, Ga. The petition, filed by attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NIPNLG), is part of a strategy advocating for the release of more than 40 men who have similarly been unlawfully detained at SDC for several months.
According to advocates, ICE is acting in clear violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis, which holds that the Constitution prohibits ICE from detaining people for more than six months if deportation will not occur in the reasonably foreseeable future. Many of the petitioners are approaching two years in ICE custody and have had release requests denied by ICE despite posing no flight risk and having family sponsors ready to receive them in their homes.
Petitioner Edisnoy Casals-Socarras has been in ICE custody for more than 16 months. His wife, who is also in the United States, gave birth to their daughter in October 2019. Mr. Casals-Socarras has never met his child.
“We filed this habeas corpus petition because we have been held more than 180 days after our deportation orders with no foreseeable return to Cuba,” said Casals-Socarras. “Meanwhile, we are being unnecessarily exposed to COVID-19 and dangerous conditions. Amidst so much uncertainty, we hope this petition will help us reunite with our families as quickly as possible.”
“Everyone entering the U.S. has the right to do so safely and with dignity,” said Erin Argueta, lead attorney with the SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative Lumpkin field office. “Yet these men have been subjected to prolonged detention, even amid the spread of COVID inside Stewart, and have been subjected to abuses, instead of a fair shot at building their lives here.”
“These men should have been released long ago,” said Matthew Vogel, a senior staff attorney with the NIPNLG. “There is absolutely no reason to detain them. Instead of complying with the law and releasing them, ICE instead refuses to reduce its reliance on detention, and continues to needlessly lock people up, trapping them for years in facilities that endanger their lives.”
“Even in the middle of a deadly pandemic, people have been cruelly detained in ICE detention camps across the country,” said Maria Bilbao, an organizer with United We Dream. “Many have reported unsanitary conditions through formal complaints, countless media reports, lawsuits, and outreach to congressional representatives. Abuses and medical neglect are systematic, which put people in detention at risk for contracting COVID-19. It’s beyond time to replace the cruelty Trump inflicted and the chaos he is leaving behind with a fair, humane, and functional immigration system.”
"At El Refugio, we are all too aware of the excruciating pain our Cuban friends are experiencing as they are detained long-term with no information about when they will be released, if ever,” said Amilcar Valencia, executive director of El Refugio Ministry. “To these individuals, this means they are locked up and isolated from their loved ones and under the looming threat of contracting COVID-19. The Cubans and people from other nationalities, whose rights have been violated and who have experienced prolonged detention, need to be released immediately.