The wait was excruciating for Samuel Komba Kambo’s family. Then, suddenly, he emerged into the alley at dusk behind a downtown detention facility — and into freedom.
Kambo had been jailed for nearly a year as immigration authorities sought to deport him to his native Sierra Leone. U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ordered immigration officials on Thursday to release him on bond, saying that holding him violated Kambo’s constitutional rights.
“Look at him! Look at him!” cried Kambo’s wife, Hannah, as their four children, ages 4 to 13, ran to greet their father.
A former energy minister in Sierra Leone, Kambo had been detained while fighting accusations related to the killing of counter-revolutionaries in his West African country.
An immigration judge found in June that the accusations were unfounded and that Kambo should be allowed to become a permanent U.S. resident, but immigration officials continued to jail him while they appealed.
Kambo, holding his son in his arms, stood with his family crowded around him and smiled widely for a moment. “I feel great. It’s like a dream,” he said. “I just want to be with my family for now.”
Noncitizens like Kambo, who has been living in Texas on valid visas for 14 years, are subject to broad discretion by the Justice Department under post-Sept. 11 detention laws.
They can be jailed during a prolonged appeals process that typically keeps cases in immigration court and the Board of Immigration Appeals for years before they can reach the federal court system.
Congress and some previous court rulings have chipped away at federal judges’ power to intervene before immigration court appeals are exhausted, but Rodriguez said he found “a sliver of jurisdiction given the facts of the case” to grant Kambo’s request to post bond.
“The government has not demonstrated a reasonable justification for the continued detention,” he wrote in a 41-page order issued late Thursday. “The court finds that Kambo’s continued detention under these circumstances violates his right to substantive due process.”
Rodriguez ordered Kambo be allowed to post the $12,500 bond set by an immigration judge months ago.
He waited for hours in a holding area after his family posted bond but he said he was told Department of Homeland Security officials did not want to release him in front of the media, which had been waiting at a DHS office with his family since the judge’s morning ruling.
He walked out the back of the detention facility Thursday evening alone, carrying two large garbage bags of books and magazines — the reading material he used to help pass the year awaiting release.
His wife, Hannah, who has been raising the couple’s children alone for the last year grinned as she stood next to him.
“I still don’t believe we’re here, and he’s standing here. This is a wonderful day,” she said.
The government sought to deport Kambo, a fuels analyst for a central Texas utility, after the U.S. State Department accused him of being involved in the summary executions of 29 counter-revolutionaries in his home country. He was taken into custody in October 2006.
Kambo, who was part of a government that took power in a bloodless coup in 1992, has denied any involvement in the killings, and an immigration judge ruled there was no credible evidence that Kambo had any role in orchestrating the suppression of counter-revolutionaries.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Anderson said Thursday the office has an appeal pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals, which could still revoke bond and overturn the immigration judge’s ruling.