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

In February 2023, the district court declared Mr. Davis’s ongoing detention unconstitutional and ordered the government to grant him an individualized bond hearing in which it must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that no conditions of release can reasonably serve the government’s compelling regulatory interest in detaining him. The decision departs from precedent in the 4th and 9th Circuits holding that immigration courts conducting bond hearings need not consider alternatives to detention before denying release.

Mr. Davis is a man of Jamaican descent with a claim to U.S. citizenship who has been imprisoned in immigration detention for over three years. 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 and isolated private prisons and jails cut off from legal assistance. 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 are 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. Davis in a habeas corpus petition before the federal courts. The organization argues that Mr. Davis’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)

Davis v. Garland, 2023 WL 1793575 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2023)

Month/Year of filing

June 2022

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, Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York