Federal Judge Bars Indefinite Detention of Asylum-Seekers

By Alfonso Serrano Jul 03, 2018

A federal district judge on Monday (July 2) ruled that the Trump administration must release more than 1,000 asylum-seekers who have shown "credible fear" of persecution in their native countries. The decision is the result of a class-action lawsuit, which argued that the Department of Homeland Security is violating its own directives and the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg of the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction barring the federal government from issuing blanket detentions at five detention centers run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Parole rates for asylum-seekers at the five ICE offices, Boasberg noted, had "plummeted from 90 percent to nearly zero" and breached the government’s own directive of providing asylum when applicable. 

"In light of the drastic decline in parole-grant rates at the five ICE field offices, and the affidavits by the named plaintiffs and their counsel regarding the processing of their parole applications, this court finds that the asylum-seekers are able to demonstrate that individualized parole determinations are likely no longer par for the course," Boasberg wrote.

Ansly Damus, the lead plaintiff in the suit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, arrived in the United States in 2016 after fleeing political persecution in Haiti. After an asylum officer determined that Damus had credible fear of persecution, he was twice granted asylum. But the federal government appealed both decisions and he was denied parole. He has remained detained for more than a year-and-a-half.

Another plaintiff in the suit, identified as L.H.A, has been detained for more than two years. After fleeing threats in El Salvador and arriving in the U.S. in 2016, he received credible fear determination and applied for parole, but his request has been denied.

The ruling represents another legal setback for the Trump administration’s "zero tolerance" immigration policies. Last week, a federal judge halted the administration’s family separation policy and called on the Department of Health and Human ServicesOffice of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to reunite more than 2,300 children with their parents within a month.

Another lawsuit, also filed last week, alleges that immigrant children seeking asylum are being wrongfully medicated and held inhumane conditions by ORR.

The five ICE field offices named in Monday’s lawsuit—in Detroit, El Paso, Los Angeles, Newark and Philadelphia—handle about a quarter of asylum applications in the U.S. Processing asylum applications can take years, and a 2009 directive states that immigrants who have shown credible fear can be considered for release while their cases wind through the system.

"Today’s decision will have an enormous impact on asylum-seekers, who pose no risk, and are currently languishing in detention," Hardy Vieux, legal director at Human Rights First, which also represented the plaintiffs, said in a statement. "It is a rejection of the Trump administration’s blanket policy of denying parole to those seeking protection in this country."