Immigrants’ Rights Clinic—Significant Achievements for 2019-20

The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic (IRC) launched in January 2020, and despite the relatively short time it has been in existence, has notched several successes. In addition. when the coronavirus crisis hit, IRC worked to protect immigrants in detention from the evolving public health disaster.

In a case of national importance, IRC represents the first person detained under a provision of the PATRIOT Act, which allows the government to detain a non-citizen indefinitely if the government determines that the individual poses a risk to national security. In December 2019, the district court judge ordered that the government had to prove that IRC client, Adham Hassoun, was a danger to national security, and later held that the government had to do so by clear and convincing evidence. An evidentiary hearing was originally scheduled for April 28 and then rescheduled to begin on June 24. Over the course of the winter and spring quarters, IRC students reviewed over 21,000 pages of discovery, drafted multiple briefs on issues relating to discovery, appeared before the district court at oral argument, and prepared to examine witnesses at the evidentiary hearing. In May, the government abandoned most of the allegations against Mr. Hassoun after its main witness was discredited. Then, on the eve of the evidentiary hearing, the government moved to cancel the hearing because it could not meet its burden of proof to show that Mr. Hassoun was a danger to national security, but it argued that the court should find in favor of the government anyway, because their decision to detain Mr. Hassoun indefinitely was insulated from any kind of judicial review.

On June 29, 2020, the district court granted Mr. Hassoun petition for release, writing that “[d]istilled to its core, Respondent’s position is that he should be able to detain Petitioner indefinitely based on the executive branch’s say-so, and that decision is insulated from any meaningful review by the judiciary. The record in this case demonstrates firsthand the danger of adopting Respondent’s position. Respondent’s position cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.” The government has now appealed to both the Second and D.C. Circuits and has sought a stay pending appeal. IRC continues to fight for Mr. Hassoun’s freedom. A news article about this case, can be found here.

In another case, IRC beat a claim of qualified immunity in a lawsuit in which IRC represents a former long-time resident of the United States suing the state troopers who turned him over to border patrol and caused his subsequent deportation. Qualified immunity has received national attention of late as a doctrine that has allowed police officers to violate people’s constitutional rights with impunity. It is rarely overcome in court, making IRC’s victory particularly important. The Court held that it was clearly established that police officers cannot racially profile individuals of Hispanic descent and arrest them solely on the unsubstantiated suspicion that they have committed an immigration violation.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, IRC partnered with a local organization, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and a bi-national border rights organization, Al Otro Lado. With NIJC, IRC submitted open records requests to six regional detention centers holding ICE detainees to uncover and publicize these facilities’ failure to protect immigrant detainees from coronavirus. With Al Otro Lado, IRC filed a lawsuit in June against the Department of Homeland Security seeking similar information for two detention centers in California. Finally, IRC submitted a comment to the CDC in response to its proposed rule that bans individuals from seeking asylum and other forms of relief at the U.S.-Mexico Border because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, IRC took on the representation of several individual clients who have asylum hearings coming up in the fall. IRC students have participated in every aspect of these cases, including fact development and client interviewing, drafting declarations and briefs, and preparing to handle the hearings in the fall.