Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Wins Freedom for Client Held under the USA PATRIOT Act

The Law School’s Immigrant’s Rights Clinic helped win the freedom of a longtime US resident who had been detained in New York by the Trump Administration under a never-before-used provision of the USA PATRIOT Act. Under a confidential court agreement, the US government released him today to an undisclosed country.

A federal court last month ordered the release of Adham Hassoun in response to a habeas challenge filed by the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Hassoun was held by the government for more than 17 months without charge or trial.

“Mr. Hassoun has won his freedom, but the government’s conduct in this case makes it crystal clear that Congress never should have granted the government this authority in the first place,” said Nicole Hallett, a clinical professor and the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. Several students worked on the case: Samantha Becci, ’20; Brian Zagrocki, ’20; and Naphtalie Librun-Ukiri, ’21. The students spent winter and spring quarters preparing for the evidentiary hearing, drafting briefs and motions, and handling oral arguments, among other things.

Hassoun completed a 15-year criminal sentence, reduced by two years for good behavior, and was then transferred to immigration custody in 2017. The government claimed it had to keep Hassoun locked up because he was a threat to national security, but it never filed criminal charges against him or produced any credible evidence to support its allegations, Hallett said.

Instead, invoking a rarely used immigration regulation and a never-before-used provision of the USA Patriot Act, the government argued that it could detain Hassoun forever simply because an executive-branch official had deemed him a “danger to national security.” Hassoun’s legal team argued that the government could not use either the regulation or the PATRIOT Act to circumvent the constitutional right to due process.

The court struck down the immigration regulation as a legal nullity. It then ordered the government to prove that Hassoun’s detention under the PATRIOT Act was justified.

In late June, the government acknowledged that it could not prove its case, and the court ordered Hassoun released from custody. In its decision, the Court opined that “[f]ar from demonstrating that [Hassoun] is so dangerous that he must be detained,” the government had illustrated “a more potent danger—the danger of conditioning an individual’s liberty on unreviewable administrative factfinding.”

Despite the government’s admission and the court’s order, the government asked two appellate courts to keep Hassoun locked up without charge or trial while it took appeals in the case. Those requests are now moot due to Hassoun’s release to a foreign country. However, Hassoun’s motion for sanctions against the government for hiding and destroying evidence of his innocence remains pending before the district court.

“The constitutional right to due process exists precisely to prevent the government abuse that happened here,” Hallett said. “Mr. Hassoun is a free man, and looks forward to beginning the next chapter of his life in his new country.”