Department of Homeland Security Refuses Asylum Seeker His Day in Court

San Diego — A Salvadoran man who has been held for nearly three years without any hearing to challenge his imprisonment is being denied his constitutional right to due process, according to a habeas corpus petition filed by the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties late last week. The Department of Homeland Security is violating the Fifth Amendment and needs to allow him—and all detainees in similar circumstances—their day in court.

Because Glorismel Centeno-Ortiz spent one evening in Mexico and was detained upon arrival, the Department of Homeland Security classified him as an “arriving alien,” and thus ineligible for a bond hearing. “The government’s opposition to even the most basic safeguard of Mr. Centeno’s liberty—a fair hearing—flouts the immigration laws and due process,” reads the ACLU’s petition. Centeno, who has been living in the United States for twenty years, since he was 11 years old, has been detained in prison-like conditions for nearly 35 months.

“By continuing to hold Mr. Centeno without any opportunity to make his case before a neutral decision maker, the Department of Homeland Security is making a mockery of our judicial system,” said Sean Riordan, staff attorney for the San Diego ACLU. “In order to respect the right of due process the government must offer it to all people, not just people it deems deserving.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has on several occasions held that prolonged immigration detention without a bond hearing is unauthorized by immigration laws because of the serious due process issues such detentions raise. Despite Ceneno’s indisputably prolonged detention, both immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals rejected three administrative requests for a bond hearing.

Centeno was brought to Los Angeles by his mother, who was fleeing the civil war in El Salvador after her brother was killed by guerrillas who also threatened her life. As a teenager, Centeno, became entangled with gangs, but following a deportation and return to the U.S, Centeno obtained counseling from Homies Unidos, an organization in Los Angeles that helps young people leave gangs. Centeno has since dedicated his life to helping other young men leave the life of gangs. According to a senior staff member at Homies Unidos, Centeno is “one of our most reliable and committed volunteers.”

In 2007, Centeno went to Tijuana to enjoy a night out with friends. When he crossed back over the border, he was immediately arrested and charged with criminal illegal reentry after deportation. In July of 2008, criminal charges against him were dismissed, but he still languishes in detention. Though Centeno entered the United States without inspection, due process rights apply, given that he has lived here for the last twenty years.

The ACLU raises statutory and constitutional challenges to Centeno’s prolonged detention. The first legal claim is that immigration laws do not authorize his continued detention unless he is provided a bond hearing before an immigration judge. The second legal claim is that any immigration law that is being used to justify his continued detention without a hearing violates due process. The Ninth Circuit recently ruled that immigration detention is prolonged and a bond hearing is generally required after six months, making Centeno’s detention nearly six times longer than what the appellate court has deemed reasonable.