Nearly two years after President Obama's election, Somali refugee Yussuf Abdikadir could be forgiven for being skeptical about the president's campaign motto, change you can believe in.
After facing severe persecution as a child in Somalia and later as an undocumented Somali refugee in Kenya (birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama Sr.), Mr. Abdikadir fled to the United States to seek asylum. But federal authorities have incarcerated him in an immigration prison outside Los Angeles while the overburdened immigration courts slowly resolve his asylum case. He has been incarcerated for six months, but a hearing on whether he should be released has yet to take place.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California added Mr. Abdilkadir and five other immigrants to its class action lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court, Rodriguez v. Hayes, challenging the U.S. government's right to detain immigrants indefinitely while they await the outcome of immigration proceedings. Named plaintiffs in the amended suit are six men from Somalia, El Salvador, and Mexico, each held at the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, CA, for more than six months without having received a detention hearing, in violation of due process and the Immigration and Nationality Act.
These men's stories are all too familiar. Every day in the Los Angeles area alone, more than 300 immigrants sitting in detention facilities have been there for more than six months - without the right to a release hearing. Hundreds of immigrants across the nation face a similar fate. Many of them never have been convicted of any crime. Each has finished serving any sentence he or she might have had. But the U.S. government continues to maintain that our immigration laws do not permit these detainees the benefit of either lawyers or release hearings.
This draconian policy affects not only refugees like Mr. Abdikadir, but also lawful permanent residents who have lived here nearly their whole lives. Jose Farias Cornejo is another victim of the immigration detention system. He came to the United States prior to his first birthday, the child of migrant farm workers. He considers himself an American he speaks perfect English, finished school in Los Angeles, and has never known any other country. Like other Americans, though, he had substance abuse problems that led to legal problems. He was convicted of two minor crimes, including a drug offense for which a criminal court judge sentenced him to 60 days in jail. But because he isn't an American citizen, immigration authorities arrested him after his sentence was over and now want to take away his green card for that same crime. Although he almost certainly will win his immigration case because he is eligible for relief to remain here, despite his drug crime, it has taken nearly a year to complete it, during which he has sat in immigration prison.
As stories like this show, the U.S. immigration detention system has become a national disgrace. Nowhere else do we imprison people for so long ''' often for years -- without lawyers or even hearings to determine if imprisonment is really necessary. This broken system inflicts a heavy cost not just to the detainees who languish in the system, but also to their families, and ultimately to the American taxpayer, who has to pay for the cost of imprisoning thousands of people for no reason.
Surely the son of an immigrant should understand that this system needs to change.