ACLU, Center for New Americans, and Dorsey & Whitney Challenge Detention of Former Child Soldier

August 17, 2015

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has joined a Habeas Petition filed by the Center for New Americans and Dorsey & Whitney, on behalf of Nelson Kargbo, a refugee from Sierra Leone, challenging his two-year detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Minnesota.

Nelson Kargbo was victimized as a child soldier in Sierra Leone before coming to the United States as a refugee. ICE took him into custody in 2013, and moved to deport him based on his convictions for three misdemeanors from seven to nine years earlier. Kargbo served a total of fourteen days in jail for these offenses, but immigration officials have held him in different county jails for two years while he fought and won his immigration case.

“I wish Immigration would just release me so that I could start work and care for my family. It’s a long time to be in jail, missing my children. I don’t understand why I’m still being held,” stated Nelson Kargbo.

The United Nations Convention Against Torture protects people like Kargbo from being forced to return to their home country where they could face torture. However, they can be deported to other countries. On July 31, 2015, the immigration court granted Kargbo CAT protections so he cannot be deported back to Sierra Leone. Kargbo has no ties to any other countries and ICE has never designated any other possible countries to deport him to, yet they still plan to continue to hold him for another 90 days while they look for another country to deport him to.

The law only allows someone to be held when there is a reasonably foreseeable possibility of removal. In papers filed on August 11, the Center, ACLU-MN, and Dorsey argue that ICE should not be allowed to hold Kargbo another 90 days given that ICE has nowhere to remove him to. The Center, ACLU-MN, and Dorsey argue he should be released immediately and allowed to stay in the U.S. under the judge’s order.

“Working on Mr. Kargbo’s case has given me a taste of what it feels like to fight for justice in an unjust system; I hope to continue that work for the rest of my career,” said Becky Cassler (’16), a law student who worked on his case. Nicholas Hittler (’16), another student attorney, explained, “It has been both eye-opening and heart-wrenching to see how the immigration detention system can dismantle a family. I only hope that Nelson’s suffering will help shed light on the plight of others who are spending endless months in jail for no reason.”

“ICE’s local policy of detaining people like Nelson Kargbo is indefensible. He came here as a refugee and the moment he steps even a toe over the line he is held for two years in jail. And now, even though they know they can’t deport him, they want to hold him another 90 days,” stated Charles Samuelson, Executive Director for the ACLU-MN. “ICE should not be arbitrarily warehousing people in detention just because they are un-deportable. He and others like him should be allowed to re-join society and remain in the United States.”

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