The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Rights of Immigrants / Immigration Rights


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years

Court Cases

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The ACLU of Rhode Island and the Rights of Immigrants

The American Civil Liberties Union is actively dedicated to vindicating the Statue of Liberty’s invitation by advocating for the rights of immigrants. In recent years particularly, this has become an area of significant activity by the ACLU of Rhode Island.

2014: Olneyville Neighborhood Association v. RI Department of Corrections, RI State Police

Category: Active Case  Immigration  Open Government  

This open records lawsuit seeks a court order waiving the significant fees the RI Department of Corrections and the RI State Police want to charge the Olneyville Neighborhood Association before turning over records relating to the state's cooperation with federal immingration officials. ONA filed open records requests with these agencies seeking information regarding enforcement of so-called Immigration and Customs Enforcement "holds" that facilitate the transfer of detainees from law enforcement to ICE custody in order to compile a report to be shared with the public. The Department of Corrections sought an estimated $593 for retrieving and copying the records, and the State Police demanded a pre-payment of $1,500 before searching for the documents. 

The open records law authorizes courts to waive fees when the information requested "is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government," and this suit argues that ONA's request meets that standard. 

Learn more about this case >

2012: Morales v. Chadbourne

Category: Active Case  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  

"When I found out that I was being detained for immigration reasons, I was shocked,” U.S. citizen and North Providence resident Ada Morales said.  “I told the Rhode Island officials that I’m a U.S. citizen, and I offered to show them my naturalization certificate and passport, but no one would listen. They just assumed they could hold me because of my Guatemalan background and the color of my skin.” 

A lawsuit on behalf of the Ada Morales, a North Providence resident who has twice been detained as a deportable “alien” even though she is a U.S. citizen. The lawsuit alleges that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and Rhode Island officials often bypass Constitutional requirements and safeguards when they detain individuals on immigration grounds.

In February 2014, the U.S. District Court ruled that there are critical constitutional limits on the power of immigration and corrections officials to detain people while investigating their immigration status. In the opinion, U.S. District Judge John J. McConnell, Jr. held that Ms. Morales “has set forth plausible allegations that she was unconstitutionally detained solely based on her national origin and Hispanic last name.”  In July of 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld that ruling. The district court presently has before it motions for summary judgment, and the ACLU is awaiting a decision on those motions.

Cooperating Attorneys: Mark Freel, Erika Lindberg, Omar Jadwat, and Kate Desormeau

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2011: R.I. ACLU v. Rhode Island Department of Human Services

Category: Immigration  

This was a formal administrative complaint filed with the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, claiming that DHS has failed to provide adequate interpreter services to clients with limited English proficiency.  Among other things, a resolution agreement set obligations and standards for DHS to follow to determine the linguistic needs of affected individuals and provide them appropriate interpreter services, to translate important agency documents into languages spoken by 5% of the population affected by DHS programs, to ensure that the language assistance provided to applicants and clients is timely, and to train employees of their obligations under the law.

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2008: R.I. Coalition Against Domestic Violence v. Carcieri

Category: Due Process  Immigration  Open Government  

Lawsuit challenging a Gubernatorial executive order requiring all vendors and contractors doing business with the state to register with the federal government’s E-Verify work authorization program. A temporary restraining order was denied, but the executive order was subsequently rescinded and the suit was voluntarily dismissed as moot.

Cooperating Attorney: Randy Olen

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2008: Qu v. Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation

Category: Criminal Justice  Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  

On February 9, 2009 the RI ACLU filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the family of Hiu Lui (“Jason”) Ng, a 34-year-old Chinese detainee who died last August while in the custody of immigration officials at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls.  Read a brief biography of Hiu Lui Ng.

The lawsuit documented what it called “cruel, inhumane, malicious and sadistic behavior” against Ng, and alleged that more than two dozen defendants, including officials and employees of both the Wyatt facility and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), violated his constitutional rights in myriad ways.

In December of 2012, a federal judge approved a significant financial settlement on behalf of Ng's family.

Cooperating Attorneys: Robert McConnell and Fidelma Fitzpatrick 

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2006: Estrada v. R.I. State Police

Category: Immigration  Police Practices  

“Racial profiling” lawsuit challenging the hour-long detention of a van based solely on the ethnicity of the driver and passengers.

2005: R.I. ACLU v. Najarian

Category: Due Process  Immigration  

Lawsuit challenging the Division of Motor Vehicles’ failure to formally adopt any rules and regulations governing the issuance of drivers’ licenses, such as the eligibility of immigrants to obtain licenses, the documentation required to obtain a license, and the procedures for appealing denials of licenses. In response to the suit, the agency proposed formal rules and held a public hearing on them. The suit was thereupon voluntarily dismissed.

Cooperating Attorney: Thomas W. Lyons

2005: R.I. ACLU v. State of Rhode Island

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Fair Administration of Justice  Immigration  

Complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming that the state has failed to provide adequate interpreter services to criminal defendants.

2004: Gebremichael v. Bureau of Immigration and Custom Enforcement

Category: Immigration  

The ACLU intervened in this pro se petition on behalf of a non-citizen who had been detained for three years awaiting deportation. The District Court affirmed a magistrate judge’s ruling that the petitioner should be released, but gave the government ten days to get deportation papers in order. When that time passed without any action, the Affiliate sought the petitioner’s immediate release, which was granted.

Cooperating Attorney: Randy Olen

2003: Podoprigora v. INS

Category: Immigration  

Court brief filed in support of this lawful permanent resident alien’s habeas corpus petition challenging a federal law mandating his detention while undergoing deportation proceedings.

2001: In re: Ang Souvannaphavoung

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  

Successful appeal to Immigration Judge to terminate deportation removal proceedings against a Laotian immigrant who feared persecution if returned to his native land.

2001: Vieira-Garcia v. Immigration and Naturalization Service

Category: Immigration  

“Friend of the court” brief on behalf of a juvenile facing automatic deportation after being found guilty of an offense in adult state court, where the offense would have qualified only as delinquency under federal law.

2001: Garcia-Nunez v. Reno

Category: Fair Administration of Justice  Immigration  

Successful habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of an immigrant facing mandatory deportation for a criminal offense committed before the federal law requiring such deportation was enacted.

2000: Martinez v. Pawtucket Housing Authority

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  

Successfully settled racial discrimination complaint on behalf of a Puerto Rican temporary custodian who was passed over for a permanent position after he “failed” a newly-devised written test.

2000: State v. Awad

Category: Fair Administration of Justice  Immigration  

“Friend of the court” brief supporting the right of a criminal defendant to withdraw his nolo plea to a misdemeanor offense because he was not informed that the consequences of such a plea would be deportation.

1999: Hermanowski v. Farquharson

Category: Due Process  Immigration  

This was the first of a number of successful cases handled by the Affiliate challenging, on due process grounds, the indefinite detention by the INS of lawful permanent residents awaiting deportation.

1991: Cambodian Society of R.I. v. Town of West Warwick

Category: Discrimination  Racial/Ethnic Discrimination  Immigration  

Successful federal lawsuit challenging a town's decision to cancel a Cambodian group's use of Civic Center based on fears of possible violence at the event.

1989: In re Harrison Jiedeuh

Category: Immigration  

Successful petition for political asylum filed with the INS on behalf of a Liberian journalist who fled to this country after being threatened with harm by Liberian Officials; an immigration judge granted the petition.

1981: Nason v. North Smithfield

Category: Immigration  

Successful federal lawsuit challenging town decision to prohibit a couple from attending, participating in, or voting at financial town meeting because of the couple’s status as resident aliens; after suit was filed, the town agreed to let them participate.