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Editorial: No justice with legal limbo

“The aim of justice,” the Roman philosopher Cicero once said, “is to give everyone his due.”

We take this to include not leaving detainees in legal limbo.

But that is what appears to be happening to any number of immigrants who have been snagged by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s net for deportation — and who are being held in jails, like the Franklin County House of Corrections, with no timetable for resolving their individual cases.

Mark Reid, a Jamaican immigrant who now a permanent resident of New Haven, Conn., spent 15 months at the county jail here after he was picked up by ICE following his parole from federal prison. Make that 15 months waiting for his case to move forward, during which some of the legal rights one would expect this incarceration would trigger, such as a bond hearing, didn’t happen.

For ICE, it appears, it’s out of sight, out of mind.

In Reid’s case, however, there were others who were paying attention, specifically, the Yale Law School’s Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic and the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. They helped him file a lawsuit over his detention, which led to a federal judge awarding him a bond hearing. Reid’s case also opened the door for a class-action certification over the detentions of immigrants from Massachusetts and Connecticut being held in Massachusetts.

Federal U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor rejected the idea that ICE can hold such detainees indefinitely.

We agree. The legal limbo that these detainees are being subjected to is counter to the way our legal system should work when it comes to the rights of those accused. As the U.S. Constitution states in the 14th Amendment, “No state ... shall ... deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.

While Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan and jail superintendent David Lanois are among those named in the lawsuit, they aren’t the ones at fault — they are only providing housing at the federal government’s request. No, the real culprit here is ICE, which should be handling these cases in a more expedient and just manner. And offering the excuse that the department is short staffed is not justification for holding an individual in legal limbo.

That’s perpetuating an injustice to the detainees — and weakening our democracy.

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