United States Holds Thousands In Prolonged Civil Detention Without The Chance To Ask A Judge For Freedom

In July 2023, the district court ordered the government to grant Mr. Cenesca an individualized bond hearing in which it must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that continued detention is necessary. The court’s decision emphasized that Mr. Cenesca’s “onerous circumstances of his detention, including repeated placement in solitary confinement,” made his detention “unreasonable and unconstitutional.”

Mr. Cenesca is a man from Haiti fighting deportation from immigration detention, where he has been held for three years without receiving a hearing before a judge to request release. While detained, Mr. Cenesca was assaulted by a guard with such ferocity that he was left in a wheelchair. After the government refused to provide him medical care for his injuries, he protested by starting a hunger strike. He was then locked in solitary confinement in retaliation for advocating for his rights.

Under current law, the government claims the power to indefinitely detain an immigrant without any individualized justification and without any type of hearing before a judge on the legality of detention.

Why is this a key case?

The U.S. government detains over 30,000 people a day in immigration detention using a nationwide network of remote private prisons and jails isolated from legal assistance groups. The U.S. government’s own investigators describe conditions of confinement in immigration detention as “barbaric” and “negligent.” And people imprisoned in U.S. immigration detention have suffered grave physical and psychological harms, including torture and death.

People in immigration detention are fighting deportation in proceedings before an immigration judge, many of them seeking asylum, protection from torture, and other forms of humanitarian immigration status. But as the immigration court backlog has ballooned to over 2 million pending cases, immigration court proceedings now take an average of over 3 and a half years to complete. Over 70 percent of people detained by immigration authorities are held in mandatory detention, meaning so long as their immigration case is pending in court, the government denies them a hearing before a judge to request release, even if they can prove they are not a danger to the community or flight risk. As a result, some people are held in immigration detention for years, with no end in sight.

How is RFK Human Rights supporting?

RFK Human Rights represents Mr. Cenesca in a habeas corpus petition before the federal courts. The organization argues that Mr. Cenesca’s prolonged civil detention is unconstitutional unless he receives a hearing before an immigration judge where the government bears the burden of proving the need for his continued detention by clear and convincing evidence.

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

Cenesca v. Brophy, 6:21-cv-06390-DGL (W.D.N.Y. July 11, 2023)

Month/Year of filing

May 2021

Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated

U.S. Federal District Court, Western District of New York

Rights and legal instruments alleged violated (or found to have been violated)

Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

Procedural stage



Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights