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Editorial: Justice fails at Batavia's Federal Detention Facility

Joseph Hechavarria’s release was long overdue.

That he was locked up for five years at the Federal Detention Facility in Batavia without a bail hearing is an abomination and miscarriage of justice. There should be a law – or in this case an amendment – to prevent something like this happening.

Yet, at Batavia’s detention center there have been at least a few cases of detainees held for years in limbo while awaiting court hearings or simply for the wheels of justice to engage.

Hechavarria was held for more than five years. He was released last week. He may eventually be deported back to Jamaica. A system of due process should determine that, but for now, he’s free.

News staff reporter Phil Fairbanks highlighted his case, which caught the attention of U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo in early November. Vilardo overruled an immigration judge who sought to keep Hechavarria locked up.

Vilardo rightly concluded that Hechavarria’s extended time at Batavia without a bail hearing violated his Fifth Amendment right to due process.

Last week, he issued a second decision ordering Hechavarria’s release, under acceptable conditions that may include a requirement for electronic monitoring, such as wearing an ankle bracelet.

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 assault in Cheektowaga in 2010. Fair enough. But he served three years in state prison.

Hechavarria’s of prolonged detention at the Batavia site has precedence.

Dominican Carlos Garcia spent 10 years fighting to win his release and hoping to become a U.S. citizen. He spent six years at Batavia before winning his freedom and citizenship. Just as Hechavarria, Garcia had a criminal record which included a firearms conviction. Immigration officials spent years trying to deport him.

Hechavarria served time for a crime he pleaded guilty to. Detaining him for five years without a bail hearing was unjust. Everyone is entitled to due process and Hechavarria didn’t get it.

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