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Judge blocks ICE from denying parole to asylum-seekers

A federal judge ordered the Trump administration today to change its blanket policy of locking up people lawfully seeking asylum in the United States as a lawsuit filed by the SPLC and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana makes its way through the federal courts.

The preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg means the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office in New Orleans must restore procedures for detained asylum-seekers to seek release through a process known as parole.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for asylum-seekers the United States has cruelly locked away and forgotten about,” said Luz Lopez, SPLC senior supervising attorney. “As early as 2017, our clients have languished in abhorrent detention centers hidden from the public eye, with no legal recourse. This ruling makes it clear that DHS and ICE must follow our nation’s immigration laws and respect the U.S. Constitution.”

Parole approvals have dropped sharply under President Trump. Fewer than 10 years ago, roughly 90 percent of such asylum seekers were released. At the New Orleans ICE Field Office, which is responsible for detained asylum-seekers across several Southeastern states, parole was granted in just two of 130 cases in 2018. Currently, the number of paroles granted in 2019 is down to zero.

The lawsuit was filed 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, Mississippi and Alabama.

ICE, the DHS agency in charge of detaining or releasing the migrants, 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. Parole is the plaintiffs’ only legal recourse for release, since the law does not currently entitle them to seek release before an immigration judge.

The lawsuit also highlights the cruel treatment within the nation’s immigrant detention centers. It notes how the facilities, essentially immigration prisons frequently operated by for-profit companies, engaged in excessive use of solitary confinement and failed to provide adequate health care.

“The denial of parole to lawful asylum seekers underscores the brutality of our immigration system,” said ACLU of Louisiana staff attorney Bruce Hamilton. “Our clients have endured dehumanizing treatment – from excessive solitary confinement to inadequate health care – all the while with virtually no hope of release.”

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 to an immigration prison overseen by 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. Others have been locked up for more than two years.

With parole access restored, attorneys with the SPLC and ACLU will now be able to fight for their clients’ release. “The court confirmed today that asylum-seekers who follow the law have the right to seek release on parole from ICE,” said  SPLC Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative Director Laura Rivera. “Now, we look forward to working with community members to provide knowledge about how to submit parole applications. ICE must be held to its burden of giving meaningful consideration for detained people’s request for parole.” 

 

Photo credit John Moore/Getty Images