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SPLC lawsuit: ICE illegally denying parole to asylum seekers in Southeast

The SPLC and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed suit today against the Trump administration for categorically denying release to hundreds of people who are languishing in immigration prisons after lawfully seeking asylum in the United States.

The class action suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of 12 named plaintiffs who, like hundreds of other migrants, sought asylum at official U.S. points of entry in compliance with federal law and then were confined and sent to remote prisons in Louisiana and Alabama.

Because the law denies them the right to seek release from an immigration judge, they turned to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which is bound by rules that favor their release on parole. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS agency in charge of detaining or releasing the migrants, however, has denied parole across the board, even when people have solid asylum cases and satisfy the legal requirements.

ICE policy requires that asylum seekers be released provided they establish their identity and show they are not a danger or flight risk, according to the lawsuit.

“Like hundreds of people being held in multiple ICE detention centers in the Deep South, our asylum-seeking plaintiffs are being punished for following the law,” said SPLC Senior Supervising Attorney Luz Virginia Lopez. “They followed the legal checklist by first presenting themselves at a point of entry, and this is how America is paying them back – with cruelty and disrespect for the law.”

Parole approvals have dropped sharply under President Trump. Fewer than 10 years ago, roughly 90 percent of such asylum seekers were released. Today, at the New Orleans ICE Field Office, which is responsible for confined asylum seekers across several Southeastern states, parole was granted in just two of 130 cases in 2018.

The lawsuit also calls attention to the impact of the dehumanizing treatment – especially the excessive use of solitary confinement and inadequate health care – received daily in immigration prisons, many of which are operated for profit.

“Across this nation, there is a consensus building that incarceration does much more harm than good to our communities,” said SPLC Staff Attorney Laura Rivera. “Yet, as criminal justice reforms lead to lower rates of incarceration, this administration is filling jails and prisons with record numbers of migrants – more than 53,000 at last count. It’s causing untold human suffering, and it’s violating the law.

“I spent a week at the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana and saw bus after bus line up outside the center to unload their human cargo. Many immigrants will spend months inside, and taxpayers are picking up the tab.”

One of the plaintiffs, identified as “R.O.P.” in the complaint, is a physician who fled Cuba because authorities demanded that he harm patients for political reasons. He’s among more than 100 Cuban men detained in remote Louisiana immigration prisons.

R.O.P sought asylum at an official U.S. point of entry in Laredo, Texas, in July 2018. He was confined and sent to an immigration prison with the area of responsibility of the New Orleans ICE Field Office. He passed the interview given to asylum seekers to determine whether their fear of harm in their country is credible. He also submitted evidence that he is not a danger to the public, along with a sponsor letter from his fiancée, a U.S. citizen.

Nevertheless, he was denied parole. He has spent nearly a year in detention and is currently being held at Pine Prairie.

“Here in Louisiana, thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers are now being exposed to brutal and inhumane conditions in our jails and prisons – with virtually no hope of release,” said Bruce Hamilton, staff attorney for the ACLU of Louisiana and co-counsel in the case. “We’re suing to stop these abuses and hold the Trump administration accountable for following the law.”

Photo by Paul Ratje/Getty Images