Monday, July 27, 2009

Immigrant’s Criminal Past Colors a Group’s Legal Challenge to Detentions

Published: June 11, 2009
New York Times

The news media campaign was all set to go. There was even a Web site ready
with a sympathetic profile of Alexander Alli, 49, the man the American
Civil Liberties Union
had chosen as the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking
custody hearings for more than 1,000 legal immigrants long locked up while they
challenged the government’s efforts to deport them on the basis of criminal

But at the last minute someone at the civil liberties union checked the
details of Mr. Alli’s criminal history. It turned out that Mr. Alli, a native of
Ghana whose wife and three children, all United States citizens, live in the
Bronx, had taken part in one of the biggest cases of identity theft in this
country. [...]

Not a perfect poster boy. The press release and the Web site were scuttled,
and lawyers even considered dropping Mr. Alli in favor of a plaintiff whose
offense was less serious. But last month, the lawsuit went forward in his name —
without publicity.

The case shows the difficulties of making an important constitutional
argument on behalf of a not-always-sympathetic group: people battling
deportation based on past crimes. Maria Archuleta, a spokeswoman for the civil
liberties organization, called the original plan to showcase Mr. Alli a mistake,
saying, “We have learned a very hard lesson to more thoroughly check all of our

Still, the lawyers said, his case illustrates the lawsuit’s central
argument: that it is illegal for the government to lock someone up for months or
years without a hearing to determine if prolonged detention is justified.


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