60 miles outside Philadelphia, on a bucolic country road in Berks County, PA, sits a brick building with a fenced-in yard fronting a line of trees. To look at it, you would never guess this place is the epicenter of the coming battles over judicial review of immigration detention in the United States.
Today the Supreme Court is conferencing to decide whether to grant a writ of certiorari in the case of Castro v. Department of Homeland Security.
Of the two dozen families who are the plaintiffs in Castro, about half have been released. But 14 families remain at Berks. They fled gender-based violence and threats to their lives in their home countries and sought asylum in the United States. After deeply flawed credible fear interviews and rubber-stamp affirmations by an immigration judge, they have languished in legal limbo for the past year and a half.
The Third Circuit decided that these families had no access to habeas corpus, the ability to seek judicial review of one’s detention – a basic right dating back to English common law. The Third Circuit’s reasoning was that these families had entered “surreptitiously” and were apprehended “near the border,” ergo they had no constitutional right to challenge their detention.
That’s plainly wrong. Even Guantánamo detainees, as law professor Steve Vladeck has pointed out over at Just Security, have been given more right to judicial review than the Berks families.
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) April 11, 2017
Vladeck called the ruling “deeply troubling” and pointed out that “it is now so much more important for the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in Castro–and reverse the Third Circuit. Reasonable minds may well disagree about the limits of immigration law, and the extent to which the Executive Order (and other U.S. immigration policies) run afoul of the Constitution. But the courts have to be the institution to settle those disputes; under Castro, the Executive Branch’s actions could theoretically be immune from such review… .”
Over at the Insightful Immigration Blog, David Isaacson writes:
The purpose of the Suspension Clause is to ensure that the government can be held to account in court when it detains someone, whether that someone is a suspected terrorist or a woman fleeing persecution with her child. The Third Circuit panel in Castro denied the petitioners in the case that Constitutionally guaranteed ability to demonstrate that they were being held pursuant to an erroneous application or interpretation of the law. We can hope, however, that … the Supreme Court on certiorari, may restore it to them.
Signing on as amici in Castro are no less eminent legal scholars than Chemerinsky, who literally wrote the book on constitutional law; the American Bar Association; and IntLawGrrls’ own editor Jaya Ramji-Nogales and contributors Lindsay M. Harris and Sarah Paoletti, who conclude: “Particularly given that the procedural and substantive protections provided to asylum claimants are consistently flouted or ignored, safeguarding Petitioners’ access to habeas corpus is of exceptional importance.”
Since last fall, I’ve been working with the Berks families and their attorneys as a legal advocate. Berks may be fine for a short-term stay but to be stuck there for 600 days is a living nightmare. This week NBC published an in-depth investigative article on the facility. If you haven’t read it yet, please do.
I’d really like to let the families speak for themselves, but cameras aren’t allowed in Berks, nor is access to social media.
Here’s America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks recently discussing the Castro plaintiffs with lead attorney Lee Gelernt of the ACLU. The card made for him by the Berks kids says simply, “We want to be free.”
Finally, please watch this 9-year-old girl who was detained in Berks but freed in December after “only” a year. This is her heartfelt message on behalf of the families who still remain:
For the sake not only of the Castro plaintiffs, but all those who are and will be caught up in Trump’s expanded detention regime, let’s hope SCOTUS is listening.