Indefinite Detention of Torture Victim Asylee

Ahilan Nadarajah, a citizen of Sri Lanka and victim of abuse and torture by the Sri Lankan government, fled to the United States and applied for asylum. He twice won asylum before an immigration judge, but the government kept him in detention for almost five years, claiming he was a terrorist, based on unverified, inaccurate, unsubstantiated, and unreliable allegations that he was a member of the “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.” The government claimed the right to detain him indefinitely.

In September 2004, the ACLU filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus to secure Mr. Nadarajah’s release from custody at the Otay Detention Facility, on the ground that his continued confinement violated the Constitution, federal statutes and regulations, and international law. After opposition from the government, the district court denied the petition on October 28, 2005, and the ACLU appealed to the Ninth Circuit.

On March 17, 2006, the Ninth Circuit reversed and ordered Mr. Nadarajah’s release in a published opinion. As the court wrote, “Starting at age 17, Ahilan Nadarajah was repeatedly tortured in Sri Lanka. He fled to the United States where he was detained upon arrival. He applied for asylum, withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture. Twice, the government’s arguments against the grant of immigration relief have been rejected and Nadarajah has been awarded relief by an immigration judge. This decision was affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Yet, the government continues to detain Nadarajah, who has now been imprisoned for almost five years despite having prevailed at every administrative level of review and who has never been charged with any crime. We order that a writ of habeas corpus issue, and that he be released on appropriate conditions during the pendency of any further proceedings.”

The court rejected the government’s claim that it could detain Mr. Nadarajah indefinitely. The court then ordered his immediate release under a writ of habeas corpus because his five-year detention was “plainly unreasonable” on the facts of the case and the government abused its discretion in denying him parole pending appeal.

The matter remains pending on the ACLU’s application for fees.