After more than five years in federal detention, Jamaican immigrant Joseph Hechavarria won his release this week.
Hechavarria's newfound freedom came with conditions, but it nevertheless represents a victory in his long legal fight against imprisonment at the Federal Detention Center in Batavia and eventual deportation back to Jamaica.
His case cast a spotlight on prolonged detention at Batavia and other immigration centers and the lack of due process afforded some detainees.
In early November, U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo pointed to Hechavarria's extended time at Batavia and concluded his ongoing detention without a bail hearing violated his Fifth Amendment right to due process.
Earlier this week, he followed up with a second decision ordering Hechavarria's release, which took place Thursday.
"We are thrilled that Joseph’s five-and-a-half years of immigration detention has come to an end, and we look forward to pursuing a determination that he may remain in the country that has been his home for the past three decades,” said Spencer Durland, one of Hechavarria's lawyers.
Durland said his client's release came with conditions but it was unclear Thursday if those conditions included electronic monitoring, such as with an ankle bracelet.
In ordering Hechavarria's release, Vilardo essentially overruled Philip J. Montante Jr., the immigration judge who as recently as earlier this month ordered him detained.
Montante cited Hechavarria's conviction for an assault in Cheektowaga in 2010 — he served three years in state prison — and determined he was a danger to the community.
Vilardo, in his decision this week, made it clear Montante's hearing was not a bail hearing and that, contrary to his previous order, the immigration judge never considered alternatives to detention.
"In fact, the IJ said not one word about any alternatives to detention," Vilardo said in his decision, referring to the immigration judge.
Hechavarria came to the United States in 1984 on a visitor visa and, after marrying a U.S. citizen, received conditional permanent resident status. Years later, immigration officials terminated his status and ordered him deported.
One of the reasons Hechavarria is challenging his deportation is a long history of kidney disease — he received a transplant in 2008 — and a concern that he might not receive the medications and treatment he needs in Jamaica.
For years, Hechavarria represented himself but, earlier this year, Vilardo appointed Timothy W. Hoover to the case.
Hoover, who is working with Durland, also represented Carlos Garcia, the Dominican who waged a 10-year legal battle to win his release from Batavia and realize his dream of becoming a U.S. citizen.
Like Hechavarria, Garcia had a criminal record, including a firearms conviction, and immigration officials spent years trying to deport him. In 2013, after spending six years at Batavia, he won both his freedom and citizenship.