NEW YORK (AP) — An asylum applicant fearing political prosecution in the Ivory Coast has been jailed for nearly three years after entering the country legally, and a judge Thursday decided he deserves a bail hearing.
Adou Kouadio entered the country through an El Paso, Texas, border crossing in February 2016 and was immediately detained pending an asylum hearing. He had his initial application denied in June 2017 and has remained detained amid an appeal of the denial.
The written ruling by U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein means Kouadio will appear before a judge within two weeks to consider if he can be freed.
“Thirty-four months of detention is too long without an opportunity for bail,” Hellerstein said, adding that the case puts into question whether an “indefinitely lengthy detention of a non-resident” seeking asylum violates the Fifth Amendment.
“This nation prides itself on its humanity and openness with which it treats those who seek refuge at its gates,” wrote Hellerstein, who has won praise for 17 years of work presiding over the bulk of litigation resulting from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
A government spokesman declined comment.
A U.S. asylum officer concluded Kouadio, 43, had demonstrated a credible fear of persecution in his homeland based on his political opinions. But after repeated delays in Texas and difficulty getting translators, the case was moved to New York, where Immigration Judge Mimi Tsankov in June 2017 denied his asylum application and ordered him removed.
Tsankov said there was insufficient evidence to support his claims that he faces danger if he returns to the Ivory Coast or Ghana, where his wife and four children reside.
She wrote that “his claim that his brother was killed simply because they thought that his brother was in fact the respondent is a tenuous claim.”
She added: “His claims to having been targeted because of his political activity, especially while he was driving the taxi, are not clear to this court.”
The judge said that although there appears to be unrest in the Ivory Coast, “I also note that there have been significant calls for peace.”
Attorney Craig Relles, who represents Kouadio, said the depth of his client’s fears are underscored by his willingness to wait three years in U.S. jails for his day in court.
“He fled and left his children behind because he was afraid of getting killed in his homeland,” Relles said.
Although immigration authorities describe Kouadio as being subject to “detention,” Relles said he is treated like other inmates at a county jail in Kearny, New Jersey, and is taken to and from court in shackles and handcuffs.
“Under the circumstances, he’s generally positive and hopeful there will be a positive outcome,” the lawyer said.