Former Webster student Francis Ladege sits in the large cell he shares with his 90 or so other prisoners in March 2018. He had heard their chartered deportation flight would take place in the next few weeks from the other inmates.
“They haven’t told me specifically, but they tell the other detainees,” Ladege said. “The flight was supposed to leave in one to three weeks. That was three weeks ago.”
Ladege has been in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since late 2015.
Joseph Lacome is a criminal and immigration lawyer who handles immigration and other law in several states. He first met Ladege when he was handling Ladege’s appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). When ICE imprisoned Ladege, Lacome told him to contact him if he was not released after six months.
Lacome did not hear from Ladege until February 2018. Since then, Lacombe has been working on Ladege’s case pro bono. Lacome filed a habeas corpus action for Ladege on March 12, 2018. A habeas corpus is a writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention.
Lacome said he believes Ladege may not have been deported yet because he is stateless.
“I think where he was living at the time, because Sudan split into two countries, South Sudan is not going to accept him,” Lacome said. “He’s not a citizen of that country, he’s never filed for citizenship there. He was born in the area that now happens to be South Sudan.”
Lacome said anyone in the U.S. can file for a habeas corpus regardless of their legal or illegal status, citing the Supreme Court ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis as legal precedent. The ruling states that immigrants who are unable to be deported cannot be detained longer than six months without signs of future removal.
“There’s two issues, one is he is challenging them for prolonged detention without being removed,” Lacome said. “Another is for prolonged detention again, but under due process rights because he’s never had a custody redetermination trial before an immigration judge.”
Lacombe also agrees with immigration lawyer Michael Sharma-Crawford that Ladege was wrongly convicted of three counts of aggravated felony. He said an aggravated felony must meet the federal requirements of an aggravated felony before it can meet the requirements at a state level.
Possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana, with or without intent to sell, is considered a misdemeanor at the federal level. Lacome said felonies must be examined at the federal level first for immigration cases. Ladege’s conviction of possession of under 35 grams of marijuana was wrongly categorized as an aggravated felony at the federal level.
ICE was scheduled to deport Ladege along with dozens of Somalians from a detainment center in EL Paso, TX at the end of February. ICE canceled the flight last minute and instead transported the prisoners to another facility outside of La Paloma, TX. Ladege said the conditions for the inmates were an improvement at the center in La Paloma.
“We left West Texas, and there were fights going on, we got pepper sprayed,” Ladege said. “There were a lot of people who were so angry and frustrated. Ever since we left there, it’s been much better. There’s been less fights, we watch TV. We go outside everyday. It’s not [great]. I still think Montgomery County [ICE detention center] was better.”
Ladege had expected to be deported anytime within the last three months, but ICE is had always canceled or postponed the flights.
ICE Public Affairs Officer Shawn A. Neudauer said ICE unable to comment on reasons for cancellations of specific flights for security reasons. However, he also said chartered ICE flights may be canceled for the same reasons any type of commercial or civilian flights may be cancelled.