Immigrant rights advocates on Tuesday applauded a federal judge’s ruling that the Trump administration cannot detain asylum seekers who are awaiting immigration hearings—a practice that breaks the government’s own policies as well as international law.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit earlier this year on behalf of a number of asylum seekers who had been denied parole after passing a “credible fear” interview with immigration authorities.
In the past, refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. have been required to prove to officials that they have a credible fear of returning to their home country due to political unrest, violence, or persecution. After doing so most asylum seekers have been released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody while they await an immigration hearing, unless they are considered a “flight risk” or a danger to the public.
The ACLU targeted five ICE offices across the country which had blatantly flouted this precedent.
“We had a clear record, as the court noted, showing that in these five ICE field offices there really was a very clear pattern in what previously resulted in release of asylum seekers at a rate of 90 percent based on individualized consideration really dwindled down to near zero,” Cecillia Wang, the ACLU’s deputy legal director, told NPR.
“This opinion does no more than hold the government accountable to its own policy, which recently has been honored more in the breach than the observance,” wrote U.S. District Judge James Boasberg. “Having extended the safeguards of the parole directive to asylum seekers, ICE must now ensure that such protections are realized.”
As Juan Cole wrote earlier this month, the Trump administration’s indefinite detention of people exercising their legal right to seek asylum violated not only U.S. law but also the 1967 Protocol to the United Nations’ 1951 Convention on the Treatment of Refugees.
Although the administration, Cole wrote, “keeps maintaining in public that refugees will have their applications for asylum processed if they present them at a regular border crossing, the evidence is that such applications are being summarily dismissed by immigration officials, who are not permitting asylum seekers access to counsel or judges (this procedure is illegal). As for his policy of arresting undocumented immigrants into the United States for the misdemeanor of crossing the border even where they are asylum seekers from political persecution, this is a violation of international and of U.S. domestic law.”
The youth-led immigrant rights group United We Dream celebrated the ACLU’s victory while noting that the Trump administration’s continued abuse of immigrants must end entirely.
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