A green card-holding immigrant from China who has lived in New York for almost 20 years was arrested by immigration authorities and detained for over eight months without a bond hearing while he awaited deportation proceedings on nonviolent charges from five years previously, it emerged this week.
Tony Chen, whose ordeal was reported this week by the Village Voice, was detained in 2015. His experience is not unique, and it points to a still-relevant problem underlined by Jennings v. Rodriguez, a case currently being considered by the Supreme Court. The Court is deciding whether to mandate that all detainees be given a bond hearing within six months of their imprisonment.
The groups Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement and the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the New York University School of Law put together a brief featuring stories like Chen’s. One man, a veteran, was detained for more than three years.
In the brief, the organizations argue that prolonged detention leads to separation of families and the loss of jobs, savings, and property.
In Chen’s case, he pled guilty to counterfeit and fraud charges in 2010, the Voice reported. He payed fines and completed his probation. He assumed his legal troubles were over until he went to Canada for a family member’s graduation in 2015. During his return, he was told that something was wrong with his green card, according to the Voice.
That was in April. In August of the same year, he was arrested by ICE.
From the Voice:
As he struggled to make sense of his situation, Tony met other green-card holders whose criminal cases had long been resolved — paid for in probation, fines, or prison time. Some, like Tony, had been rearrested after traveling internationally. A law designated them “arriving aliens” because of their criminal record. This, Tony learned from other detainees, triggered deportation proceedings.
Chen’s lawyer petitioned for a bond hearing, but was denied by a judge, and he remained in jail. It wasn’t until April 2016, after she filed another petition with a federal court, that Chen was released on bond. As the Voice pointed out, many immigrants wouldn’t have access to a lawyer who could follow through like Jones did. Chen himself was only able to benefit from her assistance because he qualified for a program that provides counsel to people below the poverty level.
The Voice reported that New York’s immigration court is backlogged with cases, and with deportations ramping up under the Trump administration, the situation isn’t likely to get better soon. If immigrants like Chen awaiting their day in court can’t get a bond hearing, they end up detained for long periods of time. Even if they eventually get released—as roughly half of all non-citizens and asylum seekers who go through these proceedings do, according to stats cited by lawyers arguing for access to bond hearings—the time spent detained while waiting for a hearing feels a lot like a punishment in and of itself.
Although Chen is now out of detention and works a restaurant job, his case is far from over. He and his family still fear he will be deported. His hearing is scheduled for early 2018.