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Singh v. U.S. Attorney General

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

December 23, 2019

BALBIR SINGH, Petitioner-Appellant,
U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL, et al., Respondents-Appellees.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama D.C. Docket No. 4:17-cv-01793-RDP-JHE

          Before WILLIAM PRYOR, MARTIN, and SUTTON, [*] Circuit Judges.


         Balbir Singh is a citizen of India subject to a final order of removal. Here we consider Mr. Singh's appeal from the denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Mr. Singh has been in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") for over 31 months and argues that he is entitled to release under the Supreme Court's ruling in Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 121 S.Ct. 2491 (2001). After careful review, and with the benefit of oral argument, we conclude that this record was insufficient for the district court to deny Mr. Singh's petition. We therefore remand for further proceedings.


         Mr. Singh is a native and citizen of India. He entered the United States sometime before 1983. In 1994, he was convicted of murder in California and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison. On September 23, 2016, Mr. Singh was transferred from the custody of California to the custody of ICE and placed in removal proceedings. He said he was afraid to return to India and received a reasonable fear interview on October 6, 2016. His interview resulted in a negative decision. Mr. Singh requested review of his negative fear determination and on October 21, 2016 an Immigration Judge found that he had not established a possibility of torture or persecution upon his being returned to India. Mr. Singh filed a petition for review and request for stay of removal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on November 25, 2016. On March 8, 2017, Mr. Singh was transferred to Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama. On April 19, 2017, the Ninth Circuit denied his request for a stay of removal.

         On October 24, 2017, Mr. Singh filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. He argued that, because six months had passed since his order of removal became final and his removal was not reasonably foreseeable, the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause did not permit ICE to continue detaining him. The District Court ordered the government to show cause why Mr. Singh's petition should not be granted.

         In response to the show cause order, the government argued that Mr. Singh's ongoing detention was permissible because he had taken actions to delay his removal and because his removal was significantly likely in the foreseeable future. The government submitted the affidavit of Bryan S. Pitman, who is a Supervisory Detention and Deportation Officer with the United States Department of Homeland Security ("DHS"). In his affidavit, Mr. Pitman stated that Mr. Singh had been "evasive" regarding his birth certificate, passport, and the whereabouts of his family members. He stated that Mr. Singh continued to return incomplete travel document applications to his case officer and that, without a complete and accurate travel document application, the Indian Consulate would not be able to issue a travel document. He also stated that, based on his experience, ICE would be able to obtain a travel document for Mr. Singh in the reasonably foreseeable future.

         The District Court ordered Mr. Singh to respond with counter-affidavits or documents demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Mr. Singh responded and submitted his own affidavit. In it, he stated that "[w]henever possible" he had complied with all of the government's requests for information and travel documents. However, while the government had requested his passport and birth certificate, he did not have those documents. He explained that the Indian travel document application requests a phone number in India, but he was not able to give one because he has not been to India in decades and does not know the phone number of anyone there. He also stated that he had not been evasive regarding the location of his birth certificate, passport, or the location of his family. Rather, he "simply [did] not know the information" requested by the government, so it was impossible for him to comply with the government's requests.

         Based on the papers alone, the District Court denied Mr. Singh's petition. It held that Mr. Singh was not entitled to habeas relief because he had not "presented a good reason to believe that his removal [was] significantly unlikely in the reasonably foreseeable future" and had "acted to prevent his removal." Mr. Singh timely filed this appeal.


         We review de novo the denial of a petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. Bowers v. Keller, 651 F.3d 1277, 1291 (11th Cir. 2011) (per curiam). We review factual findings in a habeas corpus proceeding for clear error. Byrd v. Hasty, 142 F.3d 1395, 1396 (11th Cir. 1998).


         Once a noncitizen's order of removal becomes administratively final, the Government "shall" remove that person within 90 days. 8 U.S.C. § 1231(a)(1)(A). Section 1231 provides that noncitizens with final removal orders shall be detained during the 90-day removal period, id. § 1231(a)(2), which begins on the date the removal order becomes administratively final or, if the order is judicially reviewed and the court enters a stay, the date of the court's final order. Id. ยง 1231(a)(1)(B)(i), (ii). The 90-day removal period shall be extended, and the noncitizen may remain in detention, if the noncitizen (1) "fails or refuses to make timely application in good faith ...

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