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ACLU files lawsuit on behalf of man facing deportation held at York County prison

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SPRINGETTSBURY TOWNSHIP, YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- U.S. Customs is telling a man who came to the United States to seek asylum that his request is denied, and that he must return home.

Except his home country claims he doesn't exist. Now the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania is taking legal action against U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement to get him out of jail.

Mamadu Balde says he's from Sierra Leone, but since he's on the verge of being deported, he's currently a man without a country. The York County Prison has become his temporary home for now.

Balde says he escaped the African country of Sierra Leone in the middle of a civil war in 1999.

ACLU of Pennsylvania communications director Andy Hoover said "his hometown was occupied by rebels, his own home was burned to the ground, and his personal documents were destroyed in that fire. He was separated from his parents and sister, and they never saw him again."

Hoover explained how Balde began to lead the life of an immigrant living the American dream.

"He's supporting his niece and nephew, who are teenagers, he has a job, he pays taxes," Hoover said.

"Mr. Balde and his wife have been together for nine years. When they started dating in 2008, they married in 2010, and from talking with her, I know she just wants him to come home," Hoover added.

The York County prison is her husband's home for now since his asylum was denied. Now at risk of deportation, his dream has turned into a nightmare.

"The government is unable to secure his removal to Sierra Leone, because the government in Sierra Leone says they do not have a record that he is a citizen. So, they have no where to send him, and yet they are holding him in prison," Hoover said.

Outside of prison walls, Hoover said Balde's encounters with the law are minimal other than a few motor vehicle violations in 2006.

"And a few years later, he had a misuse of a credit card charge in Ohio. These are not deportable offenses. These are not offenses in any way that put the public in any kind of danger. This is a person who's been a productive citizen," Hoover said.

That inspired ACLU of Pennsylvania to file a lawsuit against York County Prison and U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement or ICE.

"The Obama administration was unable to secure his deportation. The Trump administration has already tried to as well, and Sierra Leone had said we can not take him. So, he is being held unfairly against the constitution," Hoover said.

Despite Mamadu being an undocumented citizen of the U.S., the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting for his rights.

"We believe that the united states should be a refuge. The words on the Statue of Liberty are more than words. They have to translate into actions," Hoover said.

Some may wonder how Balde was able to enter the country in the first place since he claims to have lost his documentation.  Hoover said Balde used someone else's passport to come into the U.S. back in 1999.

An ICE spokesperson said the agency won't comment on pending litigation, but that lack of comment shouldn't be taken as agreeing with the allegations presented in the lawsuit.

The next move is up to ICE.

"The judge has asked for a response from the defendants. In the next few weeks, we have a chance to respond to them. After they do that, the lawyers will have a teleconference on September 8th with the judge," Hoover said.